Melatonin Gave Me Nightmares

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Woman lies in bed with open eyes in the dark room.
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My friends and family used to tell me I was the soundest sleeper they’d ever met. In college, my roommate had to shake me awake during a fire drill because I was in dreamland. No, I wasn’t passed out from sucking back too many Zimas. It’s just the way I used to sleep — so soundly, nothing could wake me up until my body was ready. Like the time I was four or so and we lived in California and my mom found me sound asleep on the floor after an earthquake. I’d slept through it and didn’t remember a thing.

After having kids, my sleep cycle changed and I’d wake up with every heavy breath, sniffle, or creak of them moving in their bed or crib. I was still able to fall asleep really quickly though, so I had that going for me.

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Then, perimenopause walked into my life and took that away from me too. I’d feel so tired but lie awake in bed as my mind raced. Where I used to fall asleep on the sofa watching a movie, I’d now watch the whole thing and wait for the drowsies to wash over me, but they stopped coming. If I woke up in the middle of the night because my bladder was knocking on my front door, it would be hours before I could fall asleep again.

How could I go from being such a sound sleeper and needing ten hours of sleep a night, to not being able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time?

Last winter it got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I realized this was my life now, and the old sleep patterns of yesteryear weren’t returning. I tried Tylenol PM which was highly recommended by a few friends. I laid in bed waiting for the pill to work its magic and lull me to sleep, but it didn’t.

What did happen was my body felt like an elephant was sitting on me. My limbs were heavy, and when I got up to use the bathroom, it felt like I was walking through mud.

I eventually fell asleep, but the next day I felt hungover and groggy. I wasn’t ready to give up quite yet. I tried for another two nights, wondering if maybe it was something I’d eaten, or if I was at a place in my cycle that was interfering with sleep even more than usual. I was also hopeful that perhaps if I could get one full night’s rest, I could get on top of this insomnia and get into a better routine.

Unfortunately, I kept getting the same result. That’s when, after seeing it on the shelves while grocery shopping, I decided to take some melatonin. I guess I didn’t reach for it at first because I’d assumed I would need something stronger. But it made sense to try it, since I’d read perimenopause messes with your melatonin levels.

The first night, I took my two melatonin tablets, I fell asleep within a half hour and didn’t wake up once. It was glorious, so I took them again the second night and was starting to feel like my old self again. Why had I waited so long?

For a few weeks I’d take them even if I felt like I could fall asleep on my own. I wanted to stay ahead of this sleep deprivation thing because it was affecting my whole life: I was irritable, I wasn’t retaining information like I had before, I always felt hungry, and I was super emotional.

I woke up one morning crying — I’d had a horrible dream that my kids had been taken by a man to help move furniture for the day and he wouldn’t return them until I gave him money.

The next night, I had a dream that my youngest was trapped under a pile of mattresses and I couldn’t get to him.

Then I had a dream that my ex-husband walked into my house telling me our kids had died, and he watched it all happen and didn’t do anything about it.

While I admit to being a worrier since becoming a mom, my kids are now teenagers and I’ve never had dreams like this. They were vivid. If I was dreaming about a person, they looked exactly as they did in real life. These nightmares seemed so real, it took me several minutes to calm down when I woke up.

I didn’t think that the melatonin was to blame until I was having lunch with a friend and we were talking about our sleep troubles. She told me she had to stop taking melatonin because it gave her bad dreams. This prompted me to go to the Googles, where I read that melatonin can, in fact, mess with your sleep cycle over time and even be the cause of your bad dreams.

I didn’t want to quit my new sleep aid — the regular snoozing was too delicious. But I took some that night and had a horrific dream about being sexually assaulted.

I decided I’d rather lie awake than have visions like that in my head each night. And while the melatonin didn’t haunt my dreams right away, I suspect that was the culprit. I’ve stopped taking it for a few weeks and my dreams have gone back to (my) normal: Not that disturbing, and forgotten within a few minutes of waking up.

My tossing and turning at night has subsided a bit too. I don’t fall asleep right away like I did when I was taking melatonin, but I’ve been using a lavender satchel under my pillow my daughter made for me, and taking a hot shower just before bed to relax. I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like — but it certainly beats having nightmares every night, so I’ll take it.

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