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Melatonin is a supplement that’s often used by people suffering from insomnia, jet lag and other sleep problems. While the body naturally produces melatonin to signal the brain that it’s time for sleep, people who don't make enough of it need a supplement to help them sleep.
In this post, we explain everything you need to know about melatonin including how effective it is, dosage recommendations and some precautions to keep in mind.
What Is Melatonin?
As evening approaches and darkness sets in, the pineal gland begins to release more melatonin, or what we call the sleep hormone. This is part of the body’s circadian rhythm, which is mostly governed by light and darkness.
Melatonin does not put you to sleep. Rather it tells your body that it is time for sleep, which then triggers other processes to help you relax and get ready for sleep. In other words, it makes it much easier to drift off to sleep.
Melatonin is also synthesized in labs and sold as a supplement. Similar to the melatonin produced in the body, taking melatonin supplements can also help you sleep.
Does Melatonin Improve Sleep Quality?
Yes, there’s plenty of strong evidence that melatonin does help with sleep issues. Studies have shown that melatonin reduces sleep latency (how long it takes for you to sleep), helps you sleep longer and improves sleep quality.
Melatonin is also a common treatment for jet lag. When you travel across time zones, your body’s internal clock gets out of sync with the time in your destination. For instance, you might feel sleepy during the day or feel alert at night.
Taking melatonin can help you fall asleep even when you don't feel like it, which helps reduce the effects of jet lag. You can also use melatonin to adjust your bedtime to an earlier time before you travel.
Keep in mind that melatonin is unlike prescription sleeping pills like ambien. Sleeping pills actually make you drowsy and put you to sleep right away.
Melatonin is a lot milder. You have to work with it to enjoy its benefits. For example, if you take melatonin and then stay up watching TV or browsing on your phone, you may still struggle with insomnia.
How Much Melatonin Should You Take (and When)?
Now let’s talk about dosage. Unlike what many people think, taking more melatonin does not make you sleep better.
Taking too much melatonin doesn't improve your sleep and could even harm your health. Generally, the recommended dosage for adults is between 1mg and 5mg. People respond differently to varying dosages of melatonin so you’ll have to see what amount works for you.
You can start with just 0.5mg and see how it affects you. Take it half an hour to an hour before bedtime for a few days. If you don't experience a significant improvement in sleep, increase your dosage to 1-3 mg.
The goal is to find the lowest melatonin dosage that will help you sleep without leaving you all tired and groggy the next day.
If you find you have to take more than 5mg, you should probably see a doctor for a more thorough examination. You may be experiencing more serious health or sleep problems that melatonin won’t help with.
Whichever dosage you decide, it is extremely important that you take it just before bedtime (30 minutes to an hour before). This gives it time to release into your body before you go to bed and ensures you take full advantage of it.
Does Melatonin Have Any Serious Side Effects?
Melatonin is generally safe to use, both in the short term and long term. No serious side effects have been reported even in adults taking it for years.
That said, you may experience some minor short term side effects including headaches, grogginess in the morning, nausea, and daytime sleepiness.
Taking too much melatonin (more than 10mg) can have more serious effects including difficulty breathing, digestive problems like diarrhea, dizziness, mood changes and blood pressure problems.
Tips for Using Melatonin Effectively & Safely
- As we have mentioned, it is really important when you take melatonin. Taking melatonin and not going to sleep can leave you dizzy and drowsy. This is not ideal if you need to work and could even be dangerous if you are driving. Take melatonin just before bedtime.
- Don't rely on melatonin alone to improve your sleep quality. Having a healthy sleep routine, making your bedroom sleep-friendly and having comfortable bedding will go a long way in helping you sleep better. You may even find you no longer need melatonin to sleep.
- As far as we know, it is safe to use melatonin long term. Unlike sleeping pills, you will not become dependent on it and it doesn't seem to negatively impact sleep quality. That said, sleep experts recommend fixing the underlying reason why you are having trouble sleeping instead of relying on melatonin long term.
- Do not take melatonin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. We don't know yet whether melatonin is safe for a fetus or a baby.
- Melatonin is also not recommended for people with depression, seizure disorder or an autoimmune disorder. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, consult your doctor before you take melatonin.
- It’s best to use melatonin for occasional insomnia and jet lag instead of everyday. It’s better to cultivate good sleep habits that help you sleep well every day.
Alternatives to Melatonin
If you don't want to take melatonin, there are plenty of teas, herbs and natural supplements that are known to improve sleep quality. These include magnesium, chamomile tea, lavender, valerian root and CBD oil.
But you don't have to take something to sleep well. There are also activities that can help you relax and go to sleep such as yoga, breathing exercises, stretching, and meditation.
There are also sleep aids that you can take through your ears. A sleep noise machine works wonders for insomnia. You can put on white noise, rain sounds, ocean sounds or whatever lulls you to sleep.
Remember that your lifestyle habits greatly determine your sleep quality. Working out during the day, spending time outside, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol and smoking will help you sleep faster, better and longer.
Finally, have a sleep routine whether you are taking melatonin or not. Have a routine that helps you wind down in the evening and get drowsy. You should take your dinner early (a full stomach can interfere with sleep), take a warm bath or shower and turn off gadgets at least an hour before bed.
Having a sleep routine not only maximizes natural melatonin production, it also allows the body to respond to melatonin by making you sleepy.