Many people have heard of taking melatonin to enhance their sleep, but they aren’t sure what it is. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain that makes you feel sleepy. It is responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm or your inner sleep cycle.
When it’s dark at night, your brain produces more melatonin to help you fall asleep. When it’s light in the morning, your melatonin production levels drop. Supplementing with melatonin can help you regulate your internal sleep cycle. Here’s everything you need to know about taking melatonin as a supplement!
Melatonin’s primary job is to regulate your circadian rhythm, which is a 24-hour cycle that dictates your sleep patterns. It tells you when you should go to bed each night and when to wake up each day.
Light is the driving force behind melatonin production. That’s why it’s important to make sure your room is dark at night when you go to sleep. When your brain senses light, it decreases the production of melatonin. Likewise, when your brain sees that it’s dark out, it releases melatonin into your blood so you can relax and go to sleep.
Many factors can disrupt your sleep cycle, such as stress, improper diet, lack of exercise and jet lag. Melatonin can be used in supplement form to help regulate your circadian rhythm by telling your brain when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
Melatonin is a proven natural sleep aid that can be used to treat insomnia. According to a 2012 study, insomnia patients over the age of 55 who took two milligrams of melatonin before bed significantly improved their quality of their sleep. They were also more alert in the morning and reported better quality of life. The study found that there were no cases of dependence, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms or rebound insomnia associated with the melatonin dosage (1).
Melatonin is sold in supplement form as a capsule or pill. Follow the directions on the product you are taking. For best results, take your melatonin supplement 30 minutes to two hours before bed.
There is no recommended intake for melatonin. Everyone reacts to melatonin differently and should adjust their intake based on their individual needs. The average healthy adult naturally produces approximately 0.3 milligrams of melatonin each day (3). Many people find that taking lower dosages of melatonin doesn’t help them sleep better, which is why many health supplements contain at least five or six grams of melatonin per serving.
To find the right dosage of melatonin for you, pay attention to how you feel the next day. If you feel overly tired after taking a certain amount, you may have taken too much. Likewise, if your melatonin dose did not produce the desired sleep effects, try taking a little more. Melatonin is considered safe, but it’s best to start slow and work your way up.
Older studies have shown that smaller amounts of melatonin (0.3 grams to 1 gram orally) provided relief to middle-aged adults with sleep problems (4). Since then, many researchers have increased the amount of melatonin used in studies. Some people who take too small of a dose may wake up in the middle of the night to take more. While melatonin is not addictive, the habit of waking up in the middle of the night to take more might be. Therefore, it is best to find your ideal dose and take it before falling asleep.
According to a 2013 meta-analysis that investigated 19 different studies, melatonin was shown to be effective in reducing sleep latency and increasing total sleep time. The study also found that the subjects who took melatonin for longer periods of time and at higher doses had better effects on their sleep (5). In other words, people who took more melatonin longer had better sleep than those who only took a little bit for a shorter time.
The best thing to do is find a dosage of melatonin that helps you sleep through the night without waking up. When you wake up in the morning after a full night of sleep, you should feel refreshed but not drowsy. A good rule of thumb is to adjust your dosage based on how you feel. Make all changes gradually and avoid doubling the amount if your current dosage isn’t working the way you’d like.
There is no research to show that melatonin loses its effectiveness over time. Many people take melatonin long-term for reasons other than sleep, such as to slow down the aging process, fight cancer, and keep their brains healthy.
If you’re taking melatonin long-term to help you sleep better, you may want to cycle your doses if you feel like it might be losing its effectiveness. For example, if you’ve been taking melatonin for a few months, you may wish to take it as you normally would for three days, then skip a day, and repeat for another three days, etc. You can also take it every other day or only when you’ve been having problems sleeping.
L-tryptophan is an amino acid that has been shown to improve the quality of sleep, boost your mood, reduce depression and anxiety, and even burn fat (6). In the body, l-tryptophan turns into serotonin, which is needed to help you feel good. Serotonin is also necessary to stimulate melatonin production (7).
Supplementing with l-tryptophan and melatonin together can help enhance your sleep due to the regulation of certain substances in the brain. L-tryptophan is a proven mood booster while melatonin helps makes you feel sleepy. Taking both supplements together at night can help reduce anxiety and make you drift off to sleep easier.
Consult a doctor before taking melatonin if you are on any prescription drugs to rule out any possible negative interactions. In some cases, taking melatonin with other medications can be beneficial! Here is a list of common medications and how they interact with melatonin:
According to one animal study, melatonin supplements decreased the effects of the antidepressant medications desipramine and fluoxetine (Prozac). More research is needed to determine if melatonin would have the same effect on humans. On the other hand, research shows that fluoxetine may reduce melatonin levels in humans (8). According to WebMD, melatonin should never be used with antidepressants as it may cause severe drowsiness (9).
Dyskinesia is a condition characterized by involuntary movements. It is commonly caused by taking antipsychotic medication that is used to treat schizophrenia. One study of 22 people with dyskinesia due to schizophrenia medications complications experienced fewer symptoms when they took melatonin supplements than those who did not take the melatonin (10).
According to one study, the combination of triazolam (Halcion) and melatonin improved sleep quality. Several other reports have indicated that melatonin may be warranted to help people stop using habit-forming benzodiazepines long-term (10).
Research shows that birth control pills may increase your melatonin production levels. Because of this, it is not recommended that you supplement with melatonin while taking birth control pills.
Melatonin has been shown to interact with some blood pressure medications to make them less efficient, such as methoxamine (Vasoxyl) and clonidine (Catapres). On the other hand, blood pressure medications called calcium channel blockers may disrupt melatonin production in the body.
Taking melatonin with blood thinners or anticoagulants may increase your risk of bleeding.
One study found that cancer patients who took melatonin with interleukin-2 reduced their tumor progression. They were also given better survival rates than in patients who did not take melatonin (10).
NSAIDS such as ibuprofen have been shown to reduce blood levels of melatonin.
Melatonin has been shown to cause steroids and immunosuppressant medications to become ineffective. The two should not be taken together.
Some research indicates that melatonin can be used in combination with tamoxifen to benefit breast and other cancers (10).
Tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine have all been shown to reduce melatonin levels.
According to a report by Drugs.com, melatonin is relatively safe and side effects are uncommon, even at higher doses (11). In sporadic cases, reported side effects may include:
According to Drugs.com, melatonin is non-toxic even at high doses and is not addictive, but people with the following conditions should talk to their doctor before taking a melatonin supplement (11):
People who are on a blood thinner, have a seizure disorder or are taking medication to prevent an organ transplant rejection should consult a doctor before supplementing with melatonin. If you are using other tranquilizers or sedatives, do not take melatonin. Lastly, do not take melatonin if you are pregnant or are breastfeeding.
While sleep is an important part of adult health, it is vital for growing children. Research shows that 25 percent of children with psychiatric or neurodevelopmental conditions have difficulty sleeping. Both short-term and long-term sleep loss effects on children include (12):
Because of this, many parents are turning to melatonin as a natural sleep aid to help their children. Research shows that melatonin is safe for children in smaller amounts. The following can be used as a guideline for using melatonin on a child (13):