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Key Takeaways
  • Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Supplemental melatonin may be beneficial for those who struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Precautions to consider before taking melatonin include drowsiness, daytime grogginess, and potential drug interactions.
  • Dosage can affect your sleep patterns, but depends on factors like age and existing sleep disorders.

Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is key to the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Its production increases in the evening with darkness, promoting sleep and orienting the body’s circadian rhythm.

The body naturally produces melatonin, but researchers and the public have increasingly taken an interest in external sources, like as liquids or capsules, as a way to address sleep difficulties. While studies have found that melatonin supplements can improve sleep in certain cases, they are not for everyone. It is important to carefully consider melatonin’s potential benefits and drawbacks and issues related to dosage and quality.

What Is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone created by the pineal gland in the brain that’s released into the bloodstream. Darkness prompts the pineal gland to start producing melatonin , while light causes it to stop. As a result, melatonin helps regulate the circadian rhythm and synchronize the sleep-wake cycle with night and day, facilitating a transition to sleep and promoting consistent, quality rest.

Melatonin created within the body is endogenous melatonin, but it can also be produced externally. Exogenous melatonin is normally made synthetically, and as a dietary supplement, is often sold as a pill, capsule, chewable, liquid, or patch.

Melatonin Benefits and Considerations

Melatonin produced by the body plays a fundamental role in getting quality sleep. While research has shown that melatonin supplements may be useful in certain situations related to sleeping difficulties, certain risks should be evaluated with a health care professional. The safety of melatonin supplements for children in particular has not yet been fully determined.

Melatonin in Adults

In adults, studies have found the clearest potential benefits for people who have sleeping problems related to delayed sleep-wake phase disorder and jet lag.

Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder is a circadian rhythm disorder in which a person’s sleep schedule is shifted later, often by a matter of hours. For people with this “night owl” schedule, it can be hard to get enough sleep if they have obligations, such as work or school, that force them to wake up early in the morning. Studies have indicated that low doses of melatonin taken before the desired bedtime can help people with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder adjust their sleep cycle forward .

Related: The Best Melatonin Supplements

Jet lag can occur when a person travels across multiple time zones, such as on an intercontinental flight, because their body’s internal clock becomes misaligned with the local day-night cycle. Evidence points to melatonin supplements as potentially helping to reset the sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep in people with jet lag.

Shift workers — people who work during the night or early morning — often struggle with sleep difficulties related to a misaligned circadian rhythm. Studies of melatonin in shift workers have had inconclusive results, although some people report benefits.

There is debate about whether melatonin is beneficial in otherwise healthy adults who have insomnia, a persistent condition marked by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Some experts have found evidence in favor of melatonin while others have concluded that there is not sufficient scientific support for melatonin in reducing insomnia.

For most adults, melatonin has few notable side effects, so even when its benefits may not be clear, people with sleeping problems may be inclined to try it. Consult a doctor about benefits and risks before taking melatonin.

Finding Reputable Sleep Supplements

The safety and efficacy of supplements is not closely monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Shoppers should take additional measures to make sure they are purchasing reputable products.

Melatonin in Children

Experts generally agree that more research is needed to understand the overall safety and efficacy of melatonin in young people.

Several studies have indicated that melatonin may help children with sleep-onset insomnia fall asleep more quickly and may also improve their total sleep time . Evidence from small studies has indicated that melatonin may be useful in children with certain conditions including epilepsy and some neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) .

While melatonin may be beneficial as a short-term tool to help children with a diagnosed medical need, it should not be used in place of establishing good sleep habits and setting a consistent sleep schedule.

Additional research around optimal dosage and duration of use, as well the risks of short- and long-term side effects, is needed.

Because of these uncertainties regarding melatonin’s use by children, parents and caregivers should work closely with their child’s doctor before administering melatonin supplements.

Melatonin’s Role as Part of a Sleep Routine

Even if melatonin offers relief, taking steps to develop healthy sleep habits, including establishing a sleep routines and environment, can promote better sleep quality.

  • Optimize your sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene refers to behaviors that affect sleep quality, including going to bed and waking up at the same times each day, abstaining from caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to bed, and maintaining a quiet, relaxing bedroom environment. It may also help to invest in a better mattress and new bedding.
  • Limit your screen time in the evening: Smartphones, tablets, televisions, and computers all have screens that emit blue light, which can interfere with the circadian rhythm that guides your sleep cycle. Studies have shown that reducing your exposure to screened devices can help you fall asleep more easily.
  • Schedule brief afternoon naps: Napping is an effective way for sleep-deprived people to catch up on their daily sleep allotment. However, long naps can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at your normal bedtime. Naps that last between 10 to 20 minutes are considered ideal because they are typically long enough to help you feel refreshed afterward without allowing you to enter the deep sleep stages of your sleep cycle.
  • Talk to your doctor: Speaking with your doctor about your sleep issues can help them determine if you may have an underlying sleep disorder. For example, discussing poor sleep issues or excessive sleepiness may uncover a problem like sleep apnea. Working with a doctor can lead to more appropriate and effective treatments.

Side Effects

Short-term use of melatonin has relatively few side effects for adults and is well tolerated by many people who take it. The most commonly reported side effects are daytime drowsiness, headaches, and dizziness, but these are experienced by only a small percentage of people. Some children may experience agitation or an increased risk of bedwetting when using melatonin. Parents and caregivers should take additional precautions when storing melatonin to prevent accidental ingestion or overdose. For both children and adults, talking with a doctor before taking melatonin can help prevent possible allergic reactions or harmful interactions with other medications. People taking anti-epilepsy and blood thinning medications, in particular, should ask their physician about potential drug interactions.

Melatonin is not recommended for use in people with dementia, and there is little research about its safety in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

There is also very little data about the long-term effects of melatonin supplements in children or adults. There is some concern that sustained use of melatonin could affect the onset of puberty in children, but research so far is inconclusive .

The Matt Walker Podcast SleepFoundation.org’s Scientific Advisor

Appropriate Dosages

There is no consensus about the optimal dosage of melatonin for adults, although most experts advise to avoid extremely high dosages. A typical dose in supplements for adults is between 1 and 5 milligrams , but depends on factors like age and sleep problems.

Read: How Much Melatonin Should I Take?

Some people experience daytime sleepiness when using melatonin as a sleep aid. If you experience this, it could be that your dosage is too high. It is advisable to start with the lowest dosage and work your way up gradually under the supervision of your doctor.

Infographic explaining melatonins half-life and dosage guidelines.

Typical doses for children with sleep-onset insomnia start at 1 to 2 milligrams . Depending on the diagnosed sleep issue, young people may respond to smaller doses. Proper sleep hygiene and a consistent bedtime routine may be recommended prior to trying melatonin supplements.

Oral supplements can bring the levels of melatonin in the blood to levels much higher than is normally produced by the body. Dosages between 1 to 10 milligrams can raise melatonin concentrations to anywhere from 3 to 60 times typical levels. For this reason, people taking melatonin should use caution before ingesting high doses.

How to Choose Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin is sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, not as a medication. Thismeans that melatonin products are not closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A wide range of brands with varying formulations and dosages are available over-the-counter, but there are important differences to look out for. A study that reviewed 31 melatonin supplements found major inaccuracies in dosage information , and 71% of the tested products were not within 10% of their listed dosage. An incorrect dose of melatonin can have meaningful consequences , including a higher risk of side effects and reduced effectiveness.

Some products labeled as only containing melatonin contained impurities or other compounds, such as serotonin, that can pose health risks. Melatonin is often combined with magnesium, valerian root, or other natural sleep aids in supplements, which may further affect the accuracy of dosages and labeling.

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment or medication. Always consult your doctor before taking a new medication or changing your current treatment.

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