Quick Health Scoop
- Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body.
- Melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm—your internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle.
- As a 100% drug-free sleep supplement, melatonin can help you fall asleep faster.
- The proper melatonin dosage depends on your age and specific sleep issue.
If you’ve ever struggled to fall asleep—or stay asleep—you might have considered taking a sleep aid product. While traditional over-the-counter or prescription “sleeping pills” have been around for decades, they’re actually considered medications that can have serious long-term side effects if overused or abused, including memory problems and mental and behavioral disorders.1 These medications can also be addictive to a point where you may become dependent on them to sleep, with a potential worsening of sleep issues when these pills are discontinued. That’s why many people turn to melatonin, a 100% drug-free sleep supplement. But you may wonder, what, exactly, is melatonin? And when and how much melatonin should you take?
Learn More: Everything You Need to Know About Melatonin
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is actually a hormone naturally produced by the brain’s pineal gland.2 Created in response to darkness, melatonin plays a role in the body’s circadian rhythm, your internal clock that regulates your daily sleep/wake cycle. It’s important to note that when you’re exposed to “blue” light in the evening (think glowing cell phones, computers and TV screens), this can impede the body’s natural production of melatonin and disrupt sleep.3
It is therefore best to turn off those screens at least 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep.
Learn More: Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
How Much Melatonin Does Your Body Produce Naturally?
The production of melatonin signals to your body that it’s nighttime, allowing you to relax and lowering your body temperature. This helps you transition to sleep easier and promote consistent, quality sleep.4 Most people produce adequate melatonin for sleep on their own, with levels increasing at night and then diminishing in the morning, which is when the hormone cortisol increases, to promote wakefulness. But the amount of melatonin the body actually produces varies throughout your lifetime, with levels increasing and decreasing during the various stages of life.5 Further, the aging process, diet, or stress can disrupt the body’s normal production of melatonin.
Why Do Some People Need Extra Help Getting To Sleep?
Imagine you’re traveling across the country, spanning a time zone or two along the way. It could wreak havoc on your sleep (a.k.a. jet lag). Or what if you occasionally work the night shift, throwing your sleep/wake cycle completely off balance? Some people struggle with sleep issues related to Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD). This is a “night owl” type of disorder in which a person’s sleep schedule is shifted later, often by a number of hours, making it hard to get a full night’s sleep. But even something as common as stress might make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep sometimes. Taking a melatonin supplement may help in these instances.3 Practicing some sleep hygiene tips for better sleep might also help.
What Is The Proper Melatonin Dosage For Adults?
If you’re considering taking a supplement, you might be asking yourself, “How much melatonin should I take?” Or you might wonder how much melatonin someone should take for the desired effect—is less more? How much melatonin is too much?
The safe amount of melatonin that can be taken ranges in doses of 0.3–10 mg per day, but it really depends on your age and specific sleep issue. Typically, it’s best to start with a low dose and increase it (as needed) to find what works best for you.6 If you aim to improve sleep quality, take melatonin about 30-60 minutes before you go to bed for maximum effectiveness. If you feel groggy the next day after using melatonin as a natural sleep aid, you may have taken too high of a dosage. If this happens, try taking a lower dose next time and see if that solves the problem.4
Learn More: Can You Take Melatonin Every Night?
How Much Melatonin Is Too Much?
Taken on a short-term basis, melatonin has very few side effects and when they do appear, they tend to be mild. Research shows that some side effects of taking melatonin can include headache, dizziness, nausea, and sleepiness.3 The possible long-term side effects of melatonin use are unclear.3
Depending on the dosage, supplements can elevate the melatonin levels in the blood much higher than the body normally produces. For instance, dosages between 1-10 mg can increase plasma melatonin levels from 3 to 60 times their typical peaked levels7. Exceedingly high levels of melatonin might also contribute to fatigue, headaches, and might even affect human reproduction.5 Therefore, proceed with caution before opting for a higher-dose supplement and be sure to speak to your healthcare professional about your sleep issue.
Of course, if you’re pregnant or nursing, you should definitely consult your physician before taking melatonin. Keep in mind that, like all supplements, melatonin might interact with certain medications, such as antidepressants, blood pressure or blood thinning medicines so best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking melatonin if you are taking prescription medications. In older adults, melatonin may remain active in their bodies longer than it does in younger people and also may cause daytime lethargy.3 Finally, the 2017 guidelines by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend avoiding the use of melatonin in older people with dementia.
Learn More: Is It Safe to Take Melatonin While Pregnant?
The Bottom Line
If you struggle to fall asleep (or sleep through the night) once your head hits the pillow, you might benefit from taking melatonin to help regulate your body’s sleep cycle. The optimal melatonin dose depends on your age and specific sleep issue, so start with the lowest dose of melatonin to see if that works and adjust as needed. If you’re not sure whether melatonin is the right choice for you (or how much melatonin to take), talk with your health care professional.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
Learn More: Melatonin Dreams: How It Affects Your REM Sleep
1 Cleveland Clinic. “Sleeping Pills.” 2017. Accessed on: September 17, 2020. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/15308-sleeping-pills
2 US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health. “Melatonin Effects on Hard Tissues: Bone and Tooth.” May 2013. Accessed on: September 17, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3676828/
3 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Melatonin: What You Need to Know.” 2019. Accessed on: September 18, 2020. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know
4 National Sleep Foundation. “Melatonin and Sleep.” 2020. Accessed on: September 18, 2020. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/melatonin-and-sleep
5 Endocrine Society’s Hormone Health Network. “What Is Melatonin?” November 2018. Accessed on: September 18, 2020. https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/melatonin
6 Healthline. “Melatonin: Benefits, Uses, Side Effects and Dosage.” September 14, 2018. Accessed on: September 18, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/melatonin
7 US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health. “The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature.” 2014. Accessed on: September 18, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4273450/
8 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. “Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Intrinsic Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders: Advanced SleepWake Phase Disorder (ASWPD), Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD), Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder (N24SWD), and Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder (ISWRD). An Update for 2015.” 2015. Accessed on: September 18, 2020. https://aasm.org/resources/clinicalguidelines/crswd-intrinsic.pdf