Some TikTokers have recently blamed melatonin for causing weird and sometimes even bad dreams. The use of melatonin has jumped more than 500% in the last two decades. One survey found that more than a third of US adults take it daily, and they may get more than they think: A new study in JAMA found that some brands contain more melatonin than advertised. Now the dream chatter is getting loud enough (#melatonindreams has over 7.5M views) to wonder if melatonin is involved — especially for those experiencing nightmares, which can cause disrupted sleep, avoidance of sleep, stress, and even trauma.
What does melatonin have to do with weird dreams?
There is no direct scientific evidence to show that melatonin can affect dreams, but “there’s definitely an association” between the two, says Dr. Nishi Bhopal, a board-certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine physician. “We just don’t know exactly what the mechanism is.”
One theory: Melatonin may increase time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. That’s the sleep phase where you do most of your dreaming. While most people reach this stage multiple times per night already, melatonin might make you sleep longer, which could indirectly increase your time in REM sleep and lead to vivid dreams, says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist and associate professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine. “Most REM sleep occurs closer to the morning, which is why we often feel we woke up right in the middle of a dream,” he says.
What else could be causing these bad dreams?
Mental health issues… Anxiety, depression, or stress can make people more prone to experiencing frequent nightmares.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)... “[It's] the most common cause of recurring nightmares,” says Dr. Bhopal.
Poor sleep habits… Research has repeatedly shown that keeping a consistent sleep schedule improves sleep quality, as does avoiding alcohol and screens right before bed.
Sleep conditions… Consider asking a doctor whether sleep apnea could be a factor. It causes more fragmented sleep and stress, which may contribute to nightmares.
What should I do if I think melatonin is impacting my sleep?
If you're having nightmares and want to see if it's the melatonin, Dr. Bhopal recommends pausing the supplement to see if anything changes. If the nightmares keep coming, you'll know the melatonin isn't responsible. Try tackling poor sleep habits next.
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Emily Nagoski, a sex educator, researcher, podcast host, and best-selling author of “Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life”
Credentials: MS in Counseling Psychology, PhD in Health Behavior with a concentration in human sexuality
Why we follow: Nagoski is not just a *regular* sex-ed expert — she’s a cool one. Instead of boring you with ‘10 things you can do to spice up your sex life,’ she explains the complexities of desire (with science) and helps her audience understand all of the factors that may be holding them back from sexual fulfillment, like stress, trust, body image, and shame. She uses a puppet to answer questions like “Why can’t I have an O after I had a glass of wine?” (it’s somehow not weird) and devoted a podcast episode — and an edition of her newsletter — to analyzing the sex scenes in “Ted Lasso.” You’re welcome.
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