Pregnancy can make it challenging to get a good night’s sleep. Restless legs, sleeping positions, frequent trips to the bathroom, and worries about the future can all contribute to a rough night.
According to a 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 77% of pregnant women reported sleeping challenges. The third trimester can be especially challenging as two in every three pregnant women experience insomnia, according to a 2018 study in the European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology.
If you’re pregnant and are having trouble sleeping, you’ve probably looked into ways to improve your sleep. Melatonin supplements have likely popped up in your quest for sound slumber. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain, and your body naturally produces more of it when it’s time for bed. Among other things, melatonin helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
Many people use melatonin as a supplement when they’re having difficulties sleeping. But is it safe for pregnancy? Here’s what you need to know about taking melatonin in pregnancy.
What role does melatonin play during pregnancy?
The medical community isn’t sure exactly how melatonin works in the body during pregnancy. Melatonin increases naturally when you’re pregnant, not only being produced from the pineal gland but also from the ovaries and placenta. Research indicates there’s a rise in melatonin production around 24 weeks and again after 32 weeks.
Melatonin from your body even passes through to the fetus, providing them an increase at night as well. This will help them when it comes time to be born as newborns don’t make their own melatonin until later.
Even before pregnancy, melatonin might help boost fertility. Melatonin has antioxidant properties and plays a role in egg health by reducing oxidative stress. This is important because melatonin can benefit those with preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition where oxidative stress plays a role.
And according to a 2014 study in Fertility and Sterility, melatonin even plays a role in the success of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and pregnancy success.
Is melatonin safe during pregnancy?
Melatonin might be a common supplement taken for sleep issues, but it’s not usually recommended for pregnant people. A 2022 review of studies found melatonin is probably safe to take in pregnancy, but it needs more randomized controlled studies to determine its safety.
Melatonin and pregnancy haven’t been studied enough for safety, so doctors aren’t sure whether or not melatonin is safe for pregnant people. There are a few animal studies suggesting melatonin might help prevent premature birth in mice.
Another study on rats showed melatonin treatment could increase the health of the placenta. But more human studies are needed. As with any supplement, always talk with your doctor before you decide to begin melatonin.
Melatonin is a dietary supplement and therefore isn’t regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA)—so if you decide to take it to help you sleep, ask your doctor for product recommendations. While it doesn’t tend to cause many side effects, there’s evidence it may not work as well as other medications recommended for sleep.
In those with endometriosis, melatonin showed to decrease pain by almost 40% and painful periods by 38%, according to a 2013 study in Pain. Endometriosis is a reproductive disorder where tissue normally located inside the uterus is found in areas outside the uterus where it doesn’t belong, such as on the ovaries or fallopian tubes. (Learn whether melatonin sprays work.)
How else can you sleep better while pregnant?
There are a few steps you can take to improve your sleep while pregnant without medication. These include:
- Establish a regular sleep routine for winding down. This could include a brief yoga or meditation session, deep breathing exercises, reading, journaling, or taking a warm bath.
- Use a pregnancy pillow or place extra pillows behind your back and between your legs for support and comfort in bed.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
- Turn off any electronics, including the TV or your phone, at least an hour before you go to bed.
- Keep your room comfortably cool.
- If you have too much light coming through your windows, consider buying room-darkening curtains.
Is melatonin safe during pregnancy?
While melatonin is generally considered to have a low risk of harm in pregnancy, it’s not usually recommended for pregnant people. There are other over-the-counter (OTC) medications that have been determined to be safer for use in pregnancy, and doctors are more likely to recommend these over melatonin. These medications include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and doxylamine (Unisom), which are antihistamines used to treat allergies and itching.
Melatonin isn’t regulated by the FDA the same way other medications are, and the studies that’ve been done have mostly been small and involved animal subjects. It’s important to always follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to taking OTC medications and supplements when you’re pregnant.
How much melatonin is safe during pregnancy?
If you want to try melatonin supplements during pregnancy to help with sleep, talk with your doctor about dosing instructions. Start out with the lowest dose and gradually increase if needed. A typical dose for adults can range from 1 to 10 milligrams, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but your doctor will recommend a dose that’s right for you.
Because melatonin supplements aren’t regulated the same way as medications, there’s no way to ensure the dosing on the bottle matches the dose you’re taking.
According to research from 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the strength of melatonin supplements can vary up to 478% more than what the packaging label states. Your best bet is to talk with your doctor about taking a sleep aid or practicing non-medication techniques for better sleep.
Still struggling with sleep during pregnancy? Here are the best things to do if you can’t sleep.