Melatonin is one of the most popular sleep supplements in the world. In the US alone, more than 3 million people use melatonin supplements to help them fall asleep and wake up less during the night. Melatonin is naturally occurring in your body, it is relatively safe, and unlike some prescription sleep aids, melatonin isn’t addictive.
When used in low doses, melatonin is safe in most cases, and it’s a great way to keep your body healthy by encouraging regular, restful sleep. But always seek the advice of your primary health care provider before using melatonin as a sleep aid. Never exceed the recommended dose or take it during the day.
What Is Melatonin & How Does It Work?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in your brain. It is responsible for helping maintain your body’s circadian rhythm, which is your natural, 24-hour sleep and wake cycle. Your body should naturally produce and release more melatonin in the evening and at night, with levels falling in the morning. The production of melatonin is your brain’s way of telling your body that it’s time to sleep.
It’s a pretty clever little hormone—it knows when it’s dark or light out. Darkness causes your body to produce more melatonin, which then provides a sleep signal and helps you fall asleep. Exposure to light, on the other hand, decreases melatonin production and signals your body that it’s time to wake up and be alert.
Research suggests that some people who struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep may not produce enough natural melatonin. Thus, melatonin supplements are often used to help regulate their natural sleep and wake cycles. But melatonin supplements should only be used at the appropriate time of day, and only in recommended amounts.
Too Much Melatonin
Some people make the mistake of thinking that if a little melatonin helps, a lot will certainly help more. Unfortunately, that is not only wrong, but it’s also a dangerous line of thinking.
Taking too much melatonin can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. It can also cause aches, nausea, dizziness and irritability—which are all impediments to restorative sleep. Overdoing it with melatonin supplements or taking it a second time may even cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep. As with any supplement, follow the recommended intake listed on the package or instructions provided by your doctor.
When Should You Take Melatonin?
Timing is important with melatonin. Remember, your body should naturally produce more melatonin when it starts to get dark outside, so if you take supplemental melatonin too early in the evening—before the sun starts to set or before you are actually ready to fall asleep for the night—you risk throwing off the natural cycle your body is trying to maintain. Don’t fight that natural flow.
Melatonin can be very beneficial when your regular sleep schedule gets disrupted. For example, if you’ve flown across several time zones and have jetlag, or if it’s a big week at work that requires successive late nights. In situations like those, melatonin supplements can help you get back into your natural rhythm.
There’s another timing issue to be aware of, too. As you age, your body may naturally produce less and less melatonin. If you are over 60 and struggle with falling asleep or waking up during the night, low melatonin production may be part of the problem.
How Much Melatonin Should I Take?
It is best to take the lowest amount of melatonin that gives you results. In general, healthy adults may take 0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin about 60 to 90 minutes before planning to fall asleep. That amount of time will allow your brain to recognize the supplemental melatonin and trigger the signal to help you fall asleep.
Melatonin Dosage for Adults
- Melatonin for Trouble Falling Asleep
0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin, not to exceed 9 months may help people who have trouble falling asleep
- Melatonin for Disrupted Sleep-Wake Cycle
2 to 12 mg taken at bedtime for up to 4 weeks, may help get your natural rhythm back on track
- Melatonin for Extended Difficulty Sleeping
most research studies have used 2 to 3 mg of controlled-release melatonin for up to 29 weeks. Doses of up to 12 mg daily have also been studied for shorter durations (up to 4 weeks)
- Melatonin for Blood Pressure Support
2 to 3 mg of a controlled-release melatonin for up to 4 weeks
- Melatonin for Jet Lag
0.5 to 8 mg at bedtime is commonly taken starting the night of arrival at your destination, continuing for 2 to 5 days
The above intake amounts have been studied scientifically, but always check with your doctor first before supplementing your melatonin to find the safest intake for your individual needs.
Melatonin for Sleep
When you search for the best melatonin to help you sleep, you’ll find many different melatonin dosages and types of melatonin supplements—from time-release formulas to sublingual melatonin. There are advantages to each formulation and plenty of options to get the best melatonin dose and delivery for you. Here are a few melatonin supplements available from Swanson Health.
Is Melatonin Safe for Children?
Children who sleep well may have better academic performance and fewer weight concerns. They also may be less likely to get injured playing sports and have healthier immune systems. In fact, some experts believe that many children who have trouble focusing simply have poor sleep habits and aren’t rested well enough to pay attention as they should in the classroom.
Since sleep is so important, is it safe to give your child melatonin to help them get the rest they need? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough research on melatonin use in children to be sure. Melatonin is a hormone, so it must be used carefully, but some research suggests that a very low dose of liquid melatonin used on a limited basis may help children fall asleep.
Melatonin for Kids
Some parents use liquid melatonin to help their child fall asleep when sleeping patterns have been disrupted, such as on vacation after a long day or two of travel or when a busy schedule hasn’t provided adequate time for naps. This is similar to how a shift-worker might use melatonin to readjust their sleep-wake cycle after getting out of rhythm due to changing work schedules. In both cases, the use is on a very short-term, limited basis. We recommend discussing with your doctor before giving melatonin to children.
The best way to help children sleep better is to do what you were probably taught as new parents: establish a good night-time routine, dim the lights in the house about a half-hour before putting your children to bed, and put the electronics and screens away.
Melatonin Dosage for Kids
If you do decide to give your child melatonin after talking with your doctor, try the lowest dose that your doctor recommends. Melatonin dosages for children often range between 0.5 mg to 6 mg but never use more than necessary. Start with a very low dose of 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Only increase the dosage if necessary, and never go with a higher dose than your doctor recommends.
Does Melatonin Have Side Effects? Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
Melatonin has a reputation for being safe, and for the most part, that’s true—though there are some medications that can interact with melatonin. But it’s important to know that the right amount of melatonin for one person may be too much for another, and the side effects of taking too much melatonin will also vary from person to person.
With the availability of supplemental melatonin in high doses, it may be tempting to reach for the highest number right away, but the best approach is to start with a very low dose and stick with the minimum effective dose for you. The “more is better” philosophy does not apply to melatonin.
Side Effects of Too Much Melatonin
- Next-day drowsiness—taking too much melatonin can result in feeling sluggish the next morning or sleepy during unintended times.
- Intense Dreams—some people have reported having intense dreams or nightmares after taking too much melatonin.
- Melatonin for Kids—because it is a hormone, side effects in children may be more problematic than in adults. Always talk to a doctor before giving melatonin to a child.
- Hypothermic Effect—with the natural release of melatonin comes a natural decrease in body temperature, so going overboard can exacerbate that natural effect.
General Melatonin Side Effects & Warnings
It’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning any new dietary supplement, especially if you are on prescription medication, have a health condition, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
That said, melatonin still ranks as “likely safe” when taken for up to 2 years if used properly and “possibly safe” for long term use. Some people have complained of headache, dizziness, stomach cramps, short term feelings of depression and irritability.
- Pregnancy & Breastfeeding—women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not advised to use melatonin supplements because not enough is known about potential effects., Melatonin supplements may also interfere with ovulation, making it more difficult to get pregnant.
- Blood Sugar & Blood Pressure—people suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure should consult their doctor before taking supplemental melatonin as it can increase blood sugar in diabetics and raise blood pressure in people who take certain blood pressure medications.
- Depression—melatonin may worsen symptoms of depression and cause short-term feelings of depression.
The best advice is to start low and go slow. In other words, don’t immediately go for the highest dose you can find. Ultimately, the low 0.3-1 mg pill might be just what your tired body needs.
Melatonin for Better Sleep
Melatonin supplements are an excellent way to ease your body into a restful sleep and help get your sleeping patterns back on track. As we mentioned, we always recommend talking with your doctor about the best melatonin dosage for your needs, but we hope this article has helped you better understand your choices and how to use melatonin for sleep.
Do you take melatonin for sleep? How does it work for you? Also, if you want more tips for sleeping better, read 4 Reasons Why You Might Be Experiencing Fatigue and a Lack of Energy.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
(updated 08/10/2018, original publish date 6/20/2016)
Footnotes & References
- National Centre for Complementary & Integrative Health. Melatonin. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Is Taking a Melatonin Dietary Supplement Safe? WebMD. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Melatonin. University of Maryland Medical Centre. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Melatonin: In-Depth. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Neurobiology, Pathophysiology, and Treatment of Melatonin Deficiency and Dysfunction. US National Library of Medicine. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Melatonin. WebMD. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Why Your Child’s Behavior May Not Mean ADHD. St. Louis Children’s Hospital. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Melatonin for Sleep in Children with Autism: A Controlled Trial Examining Dose, Tolerability, and Outcomes. US National Library of Medicine. (Accessed 01/19/2018)
- Melatonin and Children. Sleep Health Foundation. (Accessed 03/09/2018)
- Can you overdose on melatonin? Medical News Today. (Accessed 08/09/2018)
- The hypothermic effect of melatonin on core body temperature: is more better? PubMed. (Accessed 08/09/2018)
- Melatonin. WebMD. (Accessed 08/09/2018)
If you are trying for a baby, you may need to take a pregnancy supplement that contains B vitamins, magnesium, iron, selenium, vitamin C and especially folic acid.