Melatonin as a sleeping aid: what you need to know

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body that helps our circadian rhythm, or the sleep-wake cycle. Also known as the “hormone of darkness”, there are certain parts of the day when it’s high (in the evening) and low (in the morning) - rising levels make us feel sleepy and lower ones keep us alert.

If you’re one to toss and turn at night, your body might be needing more melatonin. While you can get melatonin from certain foods and controlling the amount of light in the room, melatonin supplements are easy to come by too. Melatonin is relatively safe so it’s available over-the-counter in many pharmacies, health and wellbeing shops, and online stores in the US.

This article will walk you through how melatonin works, why and when you should take it, and some power tips for taking it.


How it works

Melatonin regulates our body clock’s cycle of sleep and being awake.

Our bodies naturally produce melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep and wake cycle. Melatonin is made in the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located in the brain behind our eyes.

During the day, the pineal gland is hard at work, making melatonin and storing it away. Under low light levels, the pineal gland releases melatonin, creating a sleepy feeling, which ultimately helps us sleep.

Our blood melatonin levels usually start to rise a couple of hours before we sleep. It’s like preparing us for bedtime and setting up the right conditions for our body to finally rest.

As we sleep, our pineal gland continues to release melatonin until it’s time for us to wake up. Then it goes back to producing and storing melatonin. The cycle continues.


Why take melatonin?

Each of us have different melatonin production levels. How much melatonin our body produces - and whether there’s enough to get us quality sleep - varies based on the following factors:

  • Age
  • Lifestyle
  • Diet
  • Schedule
  • Stress level
  • Amount of light in the room

If you find yourself in bed at night, quietly summoning sleep to no avail, then your body may not be making enough melatonin.

Also, if you’re a night owl (say your bedtime is after 12 midnight) but need to hit the hay at 10 PM, then you need to spike your melatonin levels several hours before bedtime.

This is where supplements enter the picture. 


How to supplement with melatonin

Melatonin plays a critical role in regulating the body clock. Many people use it as sleeping aid - melatonin helps them feel sleepy, gets them better quality sleep, and allows them to sleep longer.

While not as effective as actual medications, melatonin can certainly give you the results that you’re looking for. [1]


Timing is key

Because melatonin has a lot to do with wake and sleep cycles, the timing for when to take the supplement is critical. According to Very Well Health, when to take melatonin depends on your sleep-wake conditions: [2]

  • If you toss and turn several nights in a row, take it at night. Specifically, pop it 30 minutes before your desired sleeping time. This is the most common way for taking melatonin supplements.
  • If you find yourself sleeping in the wee hours (after midnight) and want to sleep a few hours before that, then have your melatonin fix a couple of hours before the time you want to be in bed.
  • If you have symptoms of advanced sleep phase syndrome, where you end up waking way too earlier than you would like to, then take melatonin upon waking up. While this isn’t common at all (less than 1 percent of people suffer from this), it’s best to consult a medical professional if you’re considering the use of melatonin this way.

The right dosage

As a sleeping aid, the standard dosage for melatonin ranges from 1 to 10 milligrams per day. Keep in mind though that there’s no optimal dose indicated among formal studies, but this is the standard prescribed by doctors. [3]

Make sure that you read instructions very carefully as not all melatonin supplements are the same.

Melatonin is also transferred into breast milk so pregnant women and breastfeeding moms should be careful in taking it. Otherwise, they’ll end up with extremely sleepy babies! [4]



Side effects

Melatonin supplements appear to be relatively safe. Studies have looked into the safety of melatonin and none of them have reported serious side effects, nor indicated dependence or withdrawal symptoms upon taking it. [56]

Some are worried that melatonin supplements could alter the natural levels in the body, but studies report that there’s no cause for concern on this. [789]

Melatonin has very few side effects. Clinical trials have been done to analyze the potential short-term, low-dose, and up to 3-month usage. Luckily, no adverse effects were noted, though the following are the side effects reported:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • irritability

And for older adults, studies note the following side effects:

  • restless legs
  • skin pigmentation
  • thrombosis (blood clots)


    Melatonin is a relatively safe supplement that aids in sleep. While it's naturally produced in the body, found in some foods and regulated through the amount of light in the room, supplements also provide that much-needed spike. Some people suffer from sleeplessness due to different causes and factors, and taking melatonin has been found to be an effective sleeping aid. There are various ways to take it and there are a few - albeit not serious - side effects noted on melatonin intake. But it's a definite go-to for getting better quality sleep!


    If you'd like to know more about melatonin, here's a video by Mayo Clinic which talks about how melatonin can help you get that sometimes elusive beauty sleep!