Melatonin and sleep

Sleep is often described as one of the foundations to health, along with diet, exercise, and relaxation.  Poor sleep leads to and often invigorates a myriad of health disorders for nearly a third of all Americans, according to the CDC.

Melatonin specifically is a product in the supplement community focused around sleep. While most of us have a general idea of what melatonin does to the body, we fail to understand a few important aspects of melatonin supplementation. Before jumping into how much melatonin is necessary for sleep, it is important to understand what melatonin does and how its made naturally in the body.

How does melatonin affect the body?

Melatonin is an endogenous hormone made within the pineal gland, a pea-sized part of the brain. It regulates one’s circadian rhythm and ensures one sleep and wake cycles are optimized. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin production, which is preceded by tryptophan.

When light is present, melatonin levels decrease, signaling to the brain that it’s time to be awake. When there is less light, melatonin increases, and the brain sees that as a sign to prepare for sleep. Think of it as the starting pistol in the race. The runners get lined up, they have the appropriate gear on, they’ve trained, etc. But until that pistol is fired, the runners are there, waiting. The pistol firing is like melatonin being released in the body. It serves a signal to start the race for sleep. 

Can I take melatonin for sleep?

For those who have trouble falling asleep, supplemental melatonin can be taken. If that starting pistol is not firing, a melatonin supplement can serve as that starting pistol instead. It’s recommended to take melatonin 30 minutes prior to your ideal sleep time, that way your body can digest the supplement, absorb it, and have it circulated throughout your body in an appropriate manner. Food delays the absorption of melatonin, so taking it on a relatively empty stomach will mean it’ll work faster and with better precision.

How much melatonin should I take?

Melatonin seems to be safe when used up to 6 months at 8 mg, and there are studies that show melatonin to be safe at 10 mg doses for up to 2 months. On a long-term basis, the longest study we found of melatonin use was up to 2 years in patients, and there are expert opinions that show melatonin can be used even beyond that.

That said, the recommended adult dose is 1-5 mg. Following the starting pistol analogy, you just need enough melatonin to have the race start, anything more than that provides no sleep benefit but does increase the side effects or morning grogginess.

Do some people benefit from melatonin more than others? 

If falling asleep is your primary issue with achieving good sleep, then melatonin is a viable option to consider. There are differing levels of evidence for other kinds of sleep disorders, which your physician or care provider can discuss with you further. 

We recommend speaking with your physician or pharmacist to find out if melatonin supplementation is right for you.


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