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 is generally well tolerated without causing the side effects common to most prescription sleep medications. Studies show it can help you fall asleep faster, increase your total sleep time, 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.
Melatonin Dosage for Adults
There is no official recommended melatonin dosage for adults, but a range of 1 to 5 milligrams generally appears to be effective. Adults can take melatonin a few hours before bed.
Melatonin for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
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.
Melatonin Dosage for Older Adults
Melatonin levels naturally decline as a person ages, 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 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.
Melatonin Dosage for Children
Short-term use of melatonin in small doses appears to be well tolerated by most children, though parents should consult with their child’s doctor prior to administering melatonin. The effective dosage for children depends on the sleep issue they are experiencing. Typical dosages for treating insomnia in children start at 1 to 2 milligrams and increase based on age.
When children experience side effects from taking melatonin, they are usually mild and may include:
- Bedwetting more than usual
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 have not 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.
How Much Melatonin Should I Take?
It is 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. Generally, a safe starting dose for adults is between 1 and 5 milligrams of melatonin. Older adults may find doses lower than 1 milligram to be 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.
When to Talk to Your Doctor About Melatonin
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:
- People with dementia
- People with depression
- People with epilepsy
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Shift workers
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions About Melatonin Dosage
When Should I Take Melatonin?
The best time to take melatonin is a few hours before your bedtime. Your brain naturally increases melatonin production about one to two hours before you sleep, so taking melatonin at this time may help facilitate the process.
How Much Melatonin Should I Take for Jet Lag?
Melatonin can be effective in relieving jet lag for people who travel across two or more time zones. Adults may take a dose of 1 to 5 milligrams one hour before bed for up to four nights after arriving at their destination.
Is It Safe to Take Melatonin With Alcohol?
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.
Is It Safe to Take Melatonin With Caffeine?
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.
Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
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 have taken too much melatonin is that you will 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:
- Changes in blood pressure
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
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