Dr. Abhinav Singh
Dr. Singh is the Medical Director of the Indiana Sleep Center. His research and clinical practice focuses on the entire myriad of sleep disorders.
Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific medication. Always consult your doctor before taking any new medication or changing your current dosage.
Melatonin, a hormone your brain produces when it senses darkness, helps regulate when you feel drowsy at night. You can also purchase melatonin as a dietary supplement in the United States. Supplemental melatonin comes in many forms, including tablets, liquids, patches, gummies, and sprays.
Most people take melatonin on a short-term basis to relieve temporary sleep issues, such as those caused by jet lag. Melatonin can also help some people, such as shift workers or those with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, reset their internal body clocks to get better sleep. While melatonin is primarily known as the “sleep hormone,” it may serve other important functions beyond regulating sleep. For example, it may help relieve anxiety prior to surgery.
Melatonin can be a safe short-term solution for sleep problems, as it’s generally well-tolerated without causing the side effects common to most prescription sleep medications. Studies show it can help you fall asleep seven minutes faster, increase your total sleep time by eight minutes, and improve sleep quality overall.
Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers it a dietary supplement, there are no official guidelines for melatonin dosage in the United States. A safe melatonin dosage is determined based on your age, body weight, and personal sensitivity.
There is no official recommended melatonin dosage for adults, but a range of 0.5 milligram to 5 milligrams appears to be safe and effective. Adults can take melatonin about one hour before bed.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using melatonin without first consulting their doctor. There has not been sufficient research into the safety of melatonin among this population.
Short-term use of melatonin in small doses appears to be safe and well-tolerated by most children. The effective dosage for children ranges from 0.05 milligrams per kilogram to 5 milligrams of melatonin. When children experience side effects from taking melatonin, they’re typically mild and may include:
Medical professionals may recommend melatonin for children with conditions that affect their sleep, such as insomnia, autism spectrum disorder, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Several studies have shown melatonin supplements can significantly improve overall sleep times by 25 minutes to 48 minutes, on average, for children with these conditions.
However, there haven’t been enough studies of melatonin in children for experts to determine an official recommended dosage or any potential long-term safety risks. Since melatonin is a hormone, it’s possible that taking supplemental melatonin could affect other aspects of hormone development in children, but further research is needed.
If your child is having sleep problems, experts recommend consulting your doctor before giving them melatonin. Research indicates that for half of the cases where melatonin was used to treat pediatric insomnia, better sleep habits were just as effective at relieving the child’s sleep problems.
Our melatonin levels naturally decline as we age, disrupting the sleep-wake cycles for many older adults. As a result, older adults may have an increased sensitivity to melatonin. In a meta-analysis of 16 studies, melatonin dosages between 0.1 milligram and 50 milligrams per kilogram were administered to older adults aged 55 to 77 years old. In all of the studies, the melatonin levels remained higher among the older adults when compared to younger adults and stayed higher for a longer period of time — leading to increased daytime drowsiness. The more melatonin the person took, the more pronounced these effects.
As a result, researchers recommend older adults start with the lowest dose of melatonin possible. Lower doses may help older adults sleep better without disrupting their circadian rhythms and causing prolonged drowsiness.
Older adults with dementia should avoid melatonin, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
It’s best to start with the lowest recommended dosage of melatonin for your age. From there, you can gradually increase your dosage until you find a dose that helps you fall asleep without causing any side effects. A safe starting dose for adults is between 0.5 milligram and 5 milligrams of melatonin. Older adults may find lower doses, starting with 0.1 milligram, to be safe and effective. Children should not take melatonin unless recommended by a doctor.
Over-the-counter melatonin may come in standard amounts like 1 milligram, 3 milligrams, or 5 milligrams. You can use a pill-cutter to cut the tablets in half or quarters to create a smaller starting dose.
The best time to take melatonin is about one hour before your bedtime. Your brain naturally increases melatonin production about one hour to two hours before you sleep, so taking melatonin at this time may help facilitate the process.
Melatonin can be effective in relieving jet lag for people who travel across two or more time zones. Adults may take a dose of 0.5 milligram to 5 milligrams one hour before bed for up to four nights after arriving at their destination.
It is not considered safe to take melatonin with alcohol. Because alcohol can disrupt your sleep quality and your natural melatonin levels, you should avoid mixing melatonin with alcohol.
It is not recommended that you take melatonin with caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that disrupts your sleep-wake cycle and can affect your natural melatonin production.
While melatonin is generally considered safe, it is possible to take too much. There is no official recommended melatonin dosage, and people can have different sensitivities to melatonin, so finding an appropriate dose can be challenging. Moreover, because melatonin is not regulated in the U.S., the actual melatonin content of supplements can vary significantly. Studies have found that some melatonin products can have nearly five times as much melatonin as their label claims, or much less.
The first sign that you’ve taken too much melatonin is that you’ll continue feeling its soporific effects the following day. You may feel especially drowsy or groggy. Doses of 10 milligrams or higher can cause side effects like drowsiness and headache. Other symptoms of melatonin overdose include:
To ensure safe usage, it is always a good idea to consult your doctor before taking any over-the-counter sleep aid, including melatonin. They know your personal medical history and can best advise you on the appropriate melatonin dosage for your needs. They will also know whether melatonin might interact with any other medications you may currently be taking.
Certain health conditions and medications may increase your risk of side effects when taking melatonin. If you take any of the following medications, be sure to talk to your doctor before taking melatonin:
Additionally, the following types of people may have an increased sensitivity to melatonin, and should avoid taking it before consulting their doctor:
The research into melatonin’s potential benefits and use cases is still evolving, and its long-term effects are still unknown. For many people, melatonin offers mild improvements to sleep problems when used on a short-term basis. For others, it may cause side effects or not impact sleep at all.
If you find your sleep problems persist after trying melatonin, it may be time to talk to a doctor. They can recommend other strategies for improving your sleep, such as better sleep hygiene, changes to diet and exercise, or cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia. They can also evaluate other possible causes for your sleep problems.