Melatonin helps you sleep and dream better

Does Melatonin Give You Weird Dreams?

Dreams are the ultimate escape. As we slumber, dreams give us the ability to fly (or fall), meet (or be) a celebrity, and eat and drink (or touch) without consequence. In dreams, we see impossible things, do impossible things and feel impossible things. They can be a wonderland.

But dreams can also be nightmares. One minute you are floating on air, and the next you are trapped under water, or trying to run in deep mud, or walking into your office without pants on.

As if dreams weren't strange enough, if you've taken melatonin to try to catch some extra Zzzzs, combat jet lag or insomnia, these surreal escapades might seem even more bizarre. The question is, is melatonin to blame for those crazy dreams—or is something else at play?

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in response to darkness. It helps control your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. Levels of melatonin peak overnight and naturally taper off toward morning. This hormone doesn't make you fall asleep, but it does help prepare your body for sleep and encourage REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and dreaming.

We all produce melatonin on our own, but taking extra melatonin can help promote drowsiness to help you fall asleep faster, and it may improve sleep quality with a longer, deeper sleep.

Does melatonin affect your dreams?

It can be hard to turn your brain off and drift into dreams, even if your body is begging for sleep. Taking melatonin is a popular way to help people fall asleep and experience a longer sleep cycle, so it makes sense that it has become associated with vivid dreams. Indeed, people who take melatonin sometimes report nightmares. However, there is no science-backed evidence that melatonin causes bad dreams (or vivid dreams in general).

So, what's really going on? Melatonin may just be improving sleep quality and encouraging REM sleep so that people are better able to remember or experience their dreams. In fact, for people with certain sleep disorders, melatonin has been shown to help reduce the incidence of vivid dreams.

What are melatonin dreams?

The term "melatonin dreams" is a bit of a misnomer. The response to taking extra melatonin to sleep is highly individual, both in terms of its effects on the sleep cycle and its possible effects on dreams. Some people who take melatonin may notice vivid dreams, but others do not.

A placebo-controlled trial of college students found that 6 mg of melatonin per night resulted in some increase in weird dreams, but there is no clear and direct link between taking melatonin and disturbing dreams. It may be that "melatonin dreams" happen because people experience and remember their dreams differently thanks to the REM sleep changes rather than the hormone itself.

How much melatonin causes vivid dreams?

Again, melatonin hasn't been shown to cause vivid dreams. However, some people will feel changes in what they experience and remember from their dreams when they take melatonin, thanks to better sleep quality and more REM sleep.

Side effects from melatonin are rare, but its use can result in headaches and nausea as well as other side effects, such as dizziness and sleepiness. Some experts recommend starting with the lowest effective dosage—what you need to fall asleep and stay asleep—to minimize the chance of side effects. People following this guidance often start with 300 or 500 mcg (micrograms) at bedtime, though a range of higher doses is available, including 1 mg (milligrams), 3 mg, 5 mg and 10 mg.

Because the reaction to melatonin is different from person to person, it's impossible to predict whether a 3 mg or 5 mg dosage will result in REM sleep changes and vivid dreams for an individual. The best way to test your reaction is to take the minimum available dose one single time to see if your sleep improves and if side effects occur or your dreaming becomes more vivid.

Can melatonin make nightmares worse?

Because some people report vivid dreams when taking melatonin, yes, your nightmares might get worse. However, research shows it might decrease nightmares in certain people. Because everyone has different physiology, biochemistry, sleep habits, and reactions to melatonin, responses vary.

If you occasionally experience nightmares, and taking melatonin makes your dreams more vivid or frightening, you might want to take prebiotics instead to help modulate the sleep-wake cycle. Valerian, ashwagandha, lemon balm and other herbal sleep aids may also encourage better sleep.

If you have vivid, anxious dreams, it might help to keep a dream journal or practice lucid dreams, in which you train your brain to recognize it is dreaming and then exercise some control over your dreams. Meditation or breathing exercises before bed to de-stress might also help reduce nightmares.

Is it OK to take melatonin every night?

Many people rely on nightly melatonin as a safe, non-habit-forming, non-drug sleep aid, so yes – it can be taken nightly, in appropriate doses. (And sleep support is only one of its benefits; melatonin is also famous for its abilities to protect against the effects of aging, so it definitely makes sense to keep this one in your regular routine!)

The healthy sleep that it encourages can help your energy and mood after waking from a good night of sleep. As with any lifestyle change, you should talk with a doctor or healthcare provider before adding melatonin to your bedtime routine and discuss with them your responses. You should discontinue taking extra melatonin if any unusual reactions are noted, including nightmares.

The science-backed benefits of melatonin

While "less is more" in many cases, sometimes "more is more." Melatonin has many long-term health benefits, and some experts recommend higher dosages to take advantage of those benefits.

Many who take extra melatonin do so for reasons other than better sleep and dreaming:

  1. It may help prevent cancer.

    Melatonin has many roles in the body, including regulation of circadian rhythm, that could play a role in preventing cancer. Among the types of cancer that melatonin might possibly help prevent are breast, prostate, gastric, and colorectal cancer, as well as melanoma.
  2. It has anti-aging properties.

    Research has shown this hormone activates proteins associated with longevity. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the brain against oxidative stress and the neurodegeneration that occurs with aging, and boosts memory. The healthy sleep it promotes protects cognitive function, too.
  3. It rejuvenates immune system function.

    Melatonin provides vital immune support by helping coordinate immune responses to a wide variety of threats, including viruses.

About the Author: Jennifer Jhon graduated from Auburn University with a degree in journalism and communications. She established her career as an editor, designer and writer at several newspapers and magazines. She has been writing about wellness, health and nutrition for 10 years.