The People's Perspective on Medicine

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.

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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I’m an on-call worker at a psych hospital. I do eves and nocs, 8, 10 and 12 hour shifts. My sleep “schedule” is almost nonexistent. I do take melatonin and find it very effective at getting sleep in the daytime (although now that I’ve been taking adaptogens, getting sleep at any time of the day or night is much less a problem for me!)

ANYWAY, here is my question: I was told recently that melatonin should NOT be used as a “sleeping medication;” it should only be used to “reset” a particular sleep schedule — such as to get used to the time difference in a foreign country, etc. Well, I sleep at all different times, and I do take melatonin quite often. Could the person be correct, and thus I’m using the melatonin inappropriately? Comments?

I am, and have been, a hospital-based RN for 40+ years. I take call during the night shift once per week. I believe this has eliminated my sense of biorhythm. I’ve tried melatonin in various doses and brands. I have never found this supplement to help with my ability to fall or remain asleep.

Melatonin has been said to help prevent cancer in women. Years of personal experience have proven to us that it brings SLEEP. Dangers? Dr. Oz (who has now disappeared from the TV screen) once stated that more than one mg. was dangerous for men.HA! One night I gave my husband (who sometimes has trouble sleeping) five 10 mg. capsules through the night. (Swanson Vitamins) He takes at least one of these every night I take six mg. sometimes 10 mg. NEVER A PROBLEM! And, we DO SLEEP!

I have not found any good research on the use of melatonin for sleep or on the amount of melatonin to take and for how long one can take it without health risks. I wish someone would do some good , quality research studies.

I would be more concerned about night shift nurses maintaining high vitamin D levels than using Melatonin. The research is pretty compelling about the relationship between low vitamin D levels and breast cancer, including most aggressive types. A good D3,K2 supple ment for night workers who get little daytime sun exposure and natural sunlight in weekends is invaluable.

I take Melatonin at least twice a week because I must go to sleep at 4 PM and wake up at 11 PM for my midnight job. I have found it very effective with no after effects. I take 5 mg which I dissolve in my mouth.

I have taken melatonin at night on the advice of my physician for many years. The only side effect is a good night’s sleep. Consult with a medical professional who actually understands supplements if you are interested in this type of treatment. I use a sublingual spray melatonin as the pills are less effective.

What strength sublingual spray, what brand, and for how long have you used this?

Anything you take has potential side effects, but messing with brain hormones is something I would not be doing. I have seen studies that it can CAUSE depression while others say it can treat it. I don’t know who to believe except that I don’t even trust evidence-based research.

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