Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that plays a vital role in sleep. The production and release of melatonin in the brain are determined by the time of day. As it begins to get dark, your body will start producing and releasing melatonin. Being exposed to light at night can reduce melatonin production and the amount of melatonin that is released in your body decreases as you age. It is important to understand that melatonin doesn’t make you sleep, but causes a more relaxed, quiet state that helps promote sleep.
What are melatonin supplements used for?
Most people produce enough melatonin to fall asleep naturally without trouble, but supplemental melatonin can be helpful in some cases. Some of these reasons include:
- Insomnia: Insomnia is defined as trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or both. Some studies have shown that melatonin may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, although overall evidence is still unclear. The effects of the hormone while sleeping are less known.
- Shift Work Disorders: People who work night shifts may find that they are sleepy at work and have difficulty falling asleep during the daytime hours. A few small studies have shown that melatonin may help individuals who work night shifts and need to fall asleep during the day. It is unclear how effective it is or the quality of sleep during the daytime hours.
- Jet Lag: When traveling long distances across different time zones, you may experience jet lag. Research has shown that melatonin supplements are safe and may be effective in helping with jet lag symptoms by helping you fall asleep faster, improving quality of sleep, and reducing daytime tiredness.
How much should I take?
Melatonin is available over the counter. Melatonin dosage comes in a wide range of doses, from 0.5 mg up to 60 mg. It can be found as tablets, capsules, gummies, and even topical creams.
What melatonin dosage should you take before bed? If 1 mg is good, 10 mg must be even better…right? Wrong. Studies have shown that low doses are most effective; taking anywhere between 0.5-3 mg before bed may help you fall asleep, sleep more soundly, and prevent jet lag symptoms. Using a higher melatonin dosage has not been shown to be any more effective and may increase daytime sleepiness and cause other negative side effects.
Short term use of melatonin appears to be safe for most people, but more research needs to be done on the long term safety of melatonin supplementation. It is safe to take as needed an hour or two before bed when you need a restful night’s sleep. It works best if you also practice good sleep hygiene and avoid bright lights from televisions, cell phones, and other electronics.
Does melatonin have side effects?
Melatonin is considered a dietary supplement, which means it is not regulated by the FDA. In some countries, melatonin is only available as a prescription medication. It is important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any supplement, especially if you are taking prescription medications. There may be significant interactions with your medicines that should be considered.
Common side effects:
Less common side effects:
Melatonin causes drowsiness, so do not drive or operate machinery within five hours of taking this supplement.
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“Melatonin” Mayo clinic, 6 May 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-melatonin/art-20363071
“Interim NIOSH Training for Emergency Responders: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 May 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/clock.html
“Melatonin: How Much Should I Take for a Good Night’s Rest?” Cleveland Clinic, 6 May 2021, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/melatonin-how-much-should-i-take-for-a-good-nights-rest/#:~:text=Recommended%20doses%20of%20melatonin%20are,tends%20to%20increase%20daytime%20sleepiness.
“Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders” Sleep Foundation, 6 May 2021, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm-sleep-disorders