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Men and women who take melatonin supplements regularly may become dependent on them and develop a form of melatonin addiction. This condition typically involves difficulty sleeping without the supplements and can include drowsiness at inappropriate moments or problems with the circadian rhythm more generally. The symptoms of addiction typically resolve rapidly once the supplements are no longer being taken and do not generally involve any serious complications.
The term "melatonin addiction" is something of a misnomer. Melatonin occurs naturally within the body, and while it is possible to become dependent, both physically and psychologically, on melatonin supplements, this is not a true addiction in the technical sense of the term. The human body naturally seeks a condition of internal balance, called homeostasis. When supplements are used to increase the level of a substance that the body naturally produces, the body responds by lowering its natural production of that substance and by reacting less strongly to it. Essentially, the body reaches a new balance point based around the higher level of a substance such as melatonin.
When supplements to boost the level of a natural compound, such as melatonin, are no longer taken, the body’s homeostasis is disturbed again, as the body is effectively deficient in that substance until it can adjust to a more normal level again. This can cause patients to suffer from more severe versions of the symptoms for which they originally began taking supplements. In the case of melatonin addiction, this means that patients who begin taking supplements in order to escape from insomnia may find themselves suffering from very severe insomnia when they cease taking supplements.
If a person wishes to spot or avoid this sort of melatonin addiction, he or she should carefully monitor the sleep cycle. Men and women who have become dependent on melatonin will usually find it very difficult to sleep normally. Melatonin is responsible for slowing down the body’s functioning and providing drowsiness cues to induce sleep. Addiction to melatonin involves building up a much higher tolerance to these chemical messages, so that only large, artificial doses of the hormone are able to induce sleep.
In almost all cases, the symptoms of addiction are mild. Most people can easily adjust to a course of melatonin supplements over the course of a few days, and long-term negative effects are very rare. In situations where a patient is concerned that he or she may have developed a form of melatonin addiction, a short trial period without the supplements should usually be sufficient to determine whether or not the body has come to be dependent on them.