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If you’re pregnant, you might notice you have more trouble sleeping than usual. Research suggests that 46% to 78% of pregnant women experience sleep disorders. By the third trimester, nearly 80% of women experience insomnia. Naturally, many women experiencing these sleep problems seek out ways to manage them so they can improve their sleep quality.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the brain that promotes sleep. Melatonin supplements are often marketed as sleep aids, so pregnant women with sleep problems might be curious about them as a potential remedy. Learn more about the research surrounding melatonin and pregnancy, as well as other useful strategies for improving sleep while pregnant.
Naturally occurring melatonin appears to play a role in pregnancy, although more research is needed to fully understand how the hormone operates in this context. A pregnant woman’s melatonin can cross the placenta and bind to receptors in a fetus, suggesting melatonin levels impact an unborn baby. Additional melatonin may also be produced locally within the placenta. Melatonin levels in a placenta are highest during the first trimester. A pregnant woman’s melatonin levels increase after 24 weeks of pregnancy and again at 32 weeks.
Research suggests a woman’s melatonin levels may influence her ability to become and stay pregnant. One study found that night shift workers with disrupted melatonin levels are more likely to experience infertility and miscarriages. Melatonin promotes fertility by improving ovarian function and ovulation. Additionally, melatonin helps an embryo implant itself in the uterus and begin to grow.
Since melatonin levels tend to decrease with age, lower melatonin levels could be part of the reason older women are less fertile. Some researchers suggest that melatonin supplementation could help older women become pregnant.
Melatonin likely helps entrain a circadian rhythm in a fetus, which could potentially impact the baby’s sleeping patterns after birth. Melatonin may also affect neurological development in a fetus, reducing the likelihood of problems such as brain lesions.
Melatonin levels are much lower in pregnant women experiencing severe preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition in which a pregnant woman experiences high blood pressure, sometimes accompanied by excess protein in the urine. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to seizures or organ damage in pregnant women, as well as early birth or birth complications. Some professionals suggest melatonin supplements can help women with preeclampsia.
Researchers are looking into whether or not melatonin supplementation may help reduce the risk of a fetus developing neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy. If melatonin can help, then it might be recommended to women at risk of a preterm birth in the future. However, melatonin supplementation has not been confirmed to help, and is not currently recommended for this purpose.
Currently, there isn’t enough research to confirm that taking melatonin supplements while pregnant is safe. Experts don’t recommend melatonin for insomnia, the sleep issue most commonly faced by pregnant women. Rather, melatonin has been found to usefully treat jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, some sleep disorders in children, and anxiety before and after surgery.
In certain instances, however, healthcare professionals may recommend melatonin to pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant. For example, some professionals recommend melatonin supplements for older women trying to become pregnant and for pregnant women with preeclampsia. Studies suggest melatonin might also be useful for women with endometriosis.
In pregnant women without a documented health issue known to be associated with low melatonin levels, supplementation might not be a good idea. Melatonin levels naturally rise throughout pregnancy. One potential risk of supplementing with melatonin during this time could be too much melatonin in the body.
Researchers haven’t conducted much research on the safety of melatonin supplements in healthy pregnant women. In an animal study of pregnant rats, melatonin supplementation negatively impacted litter size, as well as the growth and mortality rates of the pups. However, we don’t know if these results can be generalized to humans.
If you’re pregnant and experiencing insomnia, melatonin supplementation may not be the best course of action. Instead, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and improved sleep hygiene might help. If you’re older and trying to get pregnant, or pregnant and facing preeclampsia, consult with your doctor before trying melatonin supplementation.
Talking to your doctor before taking melatonin or any supplement during pregnancy is of utmost importance. Your doctor will help ensure you aren’t exposing yourself to anything that could potentially harm you or your unborn baby. Additionally, your doctor can consider your health history and other medications and supplements to account for all potential problems and interactions.
If you’re curious about melatonin and sleep troubles during pregnancy, consider asking your doctor these questions:
Many sleep tips exist to help you improve your sleep during pregnancy. A systematic review of multiple studies found limited evidence that the following interventions help pregnant women sleep better:
Changing your sleep position could also help improve your sleep while you’re pregnant. Side sleeping is generally recommended for pregnant women, and many use blankets and pillows for support to make this position more comfortable.