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Why is Melatonin banned in the UK?

10th December 2020

When you hear the word ‘banned’, you immediately think that something is outlawed and dangerous. Especially in the world of pharmaceuticals, anything banned is thought to be unsafe and a risk to your health; something to be avoided. Which is why it’s understandable to assume that upon hearing that you cannot get Melatonin over the counter in the UK, you may jump to these conclusions. But it’s actually a different story and a reassuring one to those who may seriously benefit from Melatonin and its many functions.

Melatonin

How can it help?

Melatonin is a hormone that occurs within the body and is completely natural. It is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms – your 24-hour internal clock. Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production. Taking Melatonin supplements may help with certain situations and conditions, such as jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, some sleep disorders in children and anxiety before and after surgery.

Jet lag

With the excitement of travelling comes jet lag if you have travelled particularly far. Jet lag effects many of us and it can leave us feeling irritable, have digestive problems and seriously disrupt our sleep. The trek across multiple time zones mean your body is left incredibly confused and sleeping when you get home, or needing to stay awake for many more hours, feels completely unnatural and goes against every instinct in your body.

Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD)

For those who suffer from DSWPD have an awfully hard time falling asleep at a usual time and waking up in the morning. On average, they would rather wake up between 10am and 1pm and have difficulty sleeping before 2am. The use of Melatonin on people with DSWPD has been extensively studied, with one trial consisting of 307 people and lasting 4 weeks. They found that taking Melatonin 1 hour before they went to bed led to several things improving. These included better sleep during a third of the night, managing to fall asleep around 34 minutes earlier and functioning better during the day.

Sleep disorders in children

Children who have trouble sleeping through the night can see the effects trickle into their daytime behaviour. They can struggle with functioning throughout the day and may experience a lower quality of life. Some children can be prone to sleeping poorly, such as those who suffer with conditions such as atopic dermatitis, asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.

Because there aren’t many studies conducted on children using Melatonin supplements, there is still a lot we don’t know about how they could respond. For example, there are uncertainties about dosage and the effects of using Melatonin for a long amount of time. Because melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, it’s possible that melatonin supplements could clash with children’s hormonal development, including puberty. Because of all of these uncertainties, it’s best to work with a doctor/your local GP if your child is suffering from sleeping problems.

Sleep-wake phase disorder

Is it illegal to use?

Melatonin is not illegal to use in the UK, you can still acquire and use it happily with no legal ramifications. However, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have banned the high-street sale of it. Until 1995, Melatonin was sold in health food shops as a nutritional supplement. However, to obtain Melatonin in the UK, you must now have a prescription as is is now classified as a medicine, thus further forcing people to establish their suitability or their appropriate dosage.

The underlying point here is that Melatonin is completely safe to use in the UK, it simply requires a prescription to acquire it.