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Is Melatonin Safe for Night Shift Nurse?

People who work the night shift may need help sleeping during the day. Is melatonin safe for this purpose? We need more research to know for sure.
Is Melatonin Safe for Night Shift Nurse?
Young nurse helping a senior patient lying in hospital bed

People who do shift work put their bodies through a lot of stress. Most of us adapt to getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. If we are reasonably regular about the times, our body clocks adjust and keep us in good shape. But shift work requires people to act against their natural body clocks. Many people are successful at this, though they may need some help sleeping during daylight hours. Is melatonin safe in this circumstance?

Is Melatonin Safe for Sleeping During the Day?

Q. I work as a nurse on night shift. I plan to do so until retirement, but I am also trying to do everything I can to stay healthy.

In order to sleep during the day, I take melatonin. I have trouble sleeping more than about three or four hours unless I take it. Is melatonin safe to continue?

A. There is concern that shift workers may be at increased risk of developing breast cancer (Current Environmental Health Reports, Sep. 2017).  People who work night shifts have their natural rhythm of melatonin production disrupted, and this may play a role in cancer susceptibility. Spanish scientists have suggested that women like you should possibly take melatonin to offset this risk (Molecules, Feb. 6, 2018). They point out, however, that there are not enough clinical trials to evaluate this approach properly.

Melatonin May Help Shift Workers Sleep Better:

A painstaking review of the literature concluded that melatonin may help with sleeping problems associated with shift work (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Aug. 12, 2014).

A study of emergency physicians working night shifts found that

“Melatonin might have a limited benefit on sleep quality” (World Journal of Emergency Medicine, 2018, vol. 9, no. 4).

To learn more about using melatonin and other non-drug options, you may wish to consult our online eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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