Did you know? Insomnia is a common problem faced by almost 80% of women during pregnancy (1).
It could be due to the hormonal changes and physical discomforts like backache, frequent urination, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and fetal movements. Melatonin is a supplement that helps in regulating sleep and treating insomnia and is available in the form of over-the-counter pills. But is it safe to take melatonin during pregnancy?
MomJunction tells you about the characteristics of melatonin hormone in humans, the role it plays during pregnancy, and the alternatives for treating insomnia.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. The level of the melatonin in the body changes according to the circadian rhythms of the body. It usually starts rising with the onset of darkness, stays raised between 2am and 4am, and begins to drop during the second half of the night to awaken you in the morning (2).
Besides natural light, a few foods like walnuts, tomatoes, olives, barley, rice, cherries, strawberries, and cow’s milk are known to influence the melatonin levels in the body, thereby affecting the natural sleep cycle (3).
Though there are few known serious side-effects of melatonin supplements, it is essential that you learn how it affects you during pregnancy.
Is it safe to take melatonin while pregnant?
No. Melatonin has not been classified as a hormone or drug by the FDA and is, hence, sold as an OTC dietary supplement (4). That said, there is no scientific evidence to prove that these supplements are completely safe, especially during pregnancy. The melatonin produced by the supplements typically exceeds the amount that is naturally produced in the body.
Keep reading to know about the safe dosage of melatonin supplements for pregnant women.
How much of melatonin is safe during pregnancy?
There is no recommended dosage of melatonin for pregnant women. A typical supplement contains 1 to 3mg of melatonin, which is enough to increase the blood melatonin levels to 20 times the normal level (4).
During pregnancy, the melatonin level elevates naturally in the body. It usually starts rising from 24 weeks and increases significantly after 32 weeks of pregnancy (2). Hence, talk to your doctor about it before taking any supplements during pregnancy.
The following section helps you understand how the melatonin dose can affect the pregnancy and the fetus.
What are the side-effects of melatonin supplement during pregnancy?
The placental enzymes synthesize natural melatonin during pregnancy, which strikingly increases to 100 times the normal level by the third trimester (5). An animal study reported the following outcomes of taking melatonin supplement during pregnancy (6):
- Lower maternal weight gain
- Lesser birth weight
- Baby mortality
In general, melatonin does have some side-effects like (7)
- Morning grogginess
- Lower body temperature
- Vivid dreams
- Some change in the blood pressure
- Headache (8)
It is unclear how the melatonin intake of more than the normal levels during pregnancy can affect you and your child. The ongoing studies on melatonin and its relation to pregnancy are yet to provide convincing evidence to demonstrate its role. Therefore, it is recommended not to take melatonin any supplements without the doctor’s advice.
That said, a few studies have shown studies have shown that taking melatonin can be beneficial for the baby as well as the pregnancy.
Are There Any Benefits Of Melatonin While Pregnant?
Natural melatonin plays an important role in pregnancy. Its benefits in fetal-embryo development and pregnancy are as follows (2):
- Induces circadian rhythm in the fetus.
- Helps in the development of the nervous and endocrine system.
- It is important for normal placental development.
- It is a powerful antioxidant that aids in mitigating fetal morbidity or mortality due to intrauterine growth restriction (9).
- Melatonin produced by the placenta has anti-free radical properties that counter the preeclampsia (10).
- It helps prevent preterm labor (11).
Before you plan a medical alternative for insomnia, you should try non-medical remedies first.
What Are Some Alternatives For Treating Insomnia While Pregnant?
Here are some alternatives for managing insomnia during pregnancy:
Sleep hygiene and sleep education: This is the first line of treatment considered for insomnia that helps in improving the quality of sleep without the use of any medicines. Here is what you can do to improve sleep hygiene.
- Use dim lights during the night, if necessary.
- Reduce the intake of fluids during late evening to avoid frequent visits to the bathroom at night.
- Avoid spicy and deep-fried foods that can cause heartburn.
- Exercise for 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Keep away electronic gadgets while you are in bed.
- Avoid caffeine or nicotine use before going to bed.
- Get evaluated by the doctor for RLS (Restless Legs syndrome).
- Set your sleep and wake up time and follow it every day.
- Stimulus control: It helps in establishing a regular sleep/wake cycle. If you are unable to sleep then get up and do something that will stimulate sleep. Worrying about not being able to sleep can also trigger insomnia.
- Relaxation techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) technique helps in relaxing the muscles that help you get a good sleep. Abdominal deep breathing also helps in stimulating sleep.
- Sleep restriction: It prevents the shift in circadian clock that further aids in preventing insomnia.
- Cognitive therapy: It helps in developing a realistic expectation about sleep duration in the patients. It can be achieved through research data and considering the patient’s history of insomnia or sleeplessness.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I): It includes daily sleep logs, one session on sleep education, two sessions on stimulus control and sleep restriction, which is followed by two sessions on cognitive therapy. This is further followed by a session on sleep hygiene and ends with a session to combine the information from all the sessions.
When non-medical interventions fail to treat insomnia, you may have to rely on medical treatment.
- Hypnotics: Antihistamines like doxylamine, which is safe during pregnancy, is considered for treating moderate insomnia during pregnancy.
- Benzodiazepines: Lorazepam can be considered during pregnancy, but its risk and benefits should be discussed with the to-be-parents and should be carefully administered under the supervision of the doctor.
- Antidepressants: If depression or anxiety disorder is the reason for insomnia, then it can be treated using an antidepressant.
Sleep disturbance can be frustrating towards the last trimester of pregnancy. However, insomnia management can certainly help you to get through the issues to some extent. Though melatonin supplements are effective for short-term use, there is no scientific backing to prove its effectiveness throughout pregnancy.
Did you use melatonin supplements during pregnancy? Let us know in the comment section below.
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Postgraduate in Chemistry and content writer. She has worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company and also holds a diploma in pharmaceutical regulatory affairs. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. She is a writer for MomJunction and aims at providing informative articles based on health and wellness. Apart from writing, she takes a great interest in music and traveling. know more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shreeja-pillai/