Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?

written by / March 17, 2022
Melatonin for Sleep - Featured

This might not be your first time reading about melatonin for sleep, which is no wonder! Melatonin is one of the most popular OTC sleep aids worldwide!

Ever since it was first synthesized in the 1980s, this natural sleep supplement has been helping people worldwide recalibrate their internal clocks and fight off insomnia.

Our internal biological clocks play an essential role in keeping us awake or asleep and regulating processes like hormone secretion and even our body’s temperature.

So, let’s see what exactly melatonin is and how it can help us mend (or preserve) our sleep-wake rhythm and lead us to a more balanced, healthier life.

What Is Melatonin? 

Melatonin is a hormone naturally found in the human body. It’s secreted by the tiny pineal gland in our brain, and it helps us fall asleep. 

You may be thinking — if we’re able to produce melatonin naturally, why do we need supplements?

Well, melatonin is a specific hormone released only in the dark (after light exposure). However, due to an abundance of artificial lights all around, many find themselves lacking this hormone and end up sleepless.

So, how to counteract this? What is the best natural sleep aid? 

The answer is simple — melatonin. This supplement consistently ranks high on the top natural sleep aid lists due to its efficacy, safety, and natural origin.  

What Does Melatonin Do?

Melatonin regulates our daily rhythm, and what controls melatonin, in turn, is daylight. 

In the morning, usually around nine o’clock, the light signals the brain to stop producing melatonin, and its levels drop sharply — this is when you begin to wake up.

Normally, as daylight diminishes, our melatonin levels rise sharply, particularly about two hours before bedtime, and they remain high throughout the night. In other words, when melatonin levels rise, you begin to feel sleepy.

How Do Melatonin Pills for Sleep Work?

Melatonin supplements work identically to our naturally produced melatonin because they’re one and the same.

The way melatonin regulates day and night in our bodies has fascinated scientists ever since this hormone was first discovered in 1958. 

It’s interesting to note that melatonin is one of the body’s most ancient signaling mechanisms. This hormone is even found in bacteria, unicellular organisms, and algae, as well as in different parts of plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates.

After finding out about its role in the human body’s circadian rhythm (sleep and wakefulness), it didn’t take long for people to start producing it as a sleep-enhancing supplement.

When to Take Melatonin for Sleep?

A lack of exposure to daylight due to certain nighttime occupations can impede a person’s biological clock by stopping melatonin production. 

In the same way, exposure to intense light in the evening (from electric lamps and other devices) can delay your body’s melatonin secretion. 

A melatonin supplement can come in handy in both cases.

We should use melatonin when our internal biological clock stops “recognizing” the onset of the night or when the body becomes unable to produce the proper melatonin levels at the right time. 

Taking a melatonin pill for sleep is supposed to regulate the day/night rhythm of the human body and neutralize the effects of artificial lights, hormonal disbalances, etc.

Studies showed that people had a more proper sleep/wake-up regimen before the introduction of electricity. Back then, they relied entirely on the absence or the presence of natural light for regulating when to go to sleep and when to wake up.

Since that’s changed now, we sometimes have to resort to sleep-enhancement supplements such as melatonin, that’s most effective when taken 30–60 minutes before going to bed. 

The Benefits of Melatonin

Besides helping with sleep, melatonin is used for treating anxiety, coordination disorders, insomnia combined with psychomotor agitation, hypertonic crisis, etc. 

Taking oral melatonin improves a disturbed sleep-wake cycle in children and adults with mental illness, autism, and central nervous system diseases.

Melatonin Helps With Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Many studies explore the advantages of melatonin for sleep for certain conditions. As we previously mentioned, this hormone is proven to positively affect circadian sleep disorders (day-night rhythm disorders). 

Since it can help workers alternate between day and night shifts and get proper rest, it’s an effective way to manage shift work sleep disorder.

Melatonin Prevents and Treats Jet Lag

Melatonin works exceptionally well for jet lag (both as a treatment and a preventative measure). But to treat jet lag correctly, you’ll have to figure out when to take melatonin for sleep precisely. 

The recommended dose for jet lag is very low (0.5 mg), and it should be taken 30 minutes before what your bedtime would be at the place you’re traveling to. 

Chronic Insomnia and Melatonin

People also resort to melatonin when they need to “reconfigure” their biological clock. According to several studies, melatonin supplements for sleep can help older patients deal with chronic insomnia

In fact, certain studies (some counting almost 300 participants) found that those who take melatonin at bedtime fall asleep 3.9 minutes faster on average and sleep 13 minutes longer. 

So, melatonin can be effective in both sleep-inducing and sleep-maintaining.

Melatonin Benefits for Depression and Mood Disorders

The circadian rhythm malfunction is a common symptom (and a cause) of all mood disorders. So, fixing the problems of your day-night functioning with melatonin can undoubtedly prevent depression.

However, once clinical depression comes into play, the link between the two gets blurred. 

For example, melatonin is a perfect supplement for patients with transient pre-operative or post-operative depression. The fact that melatonin doesn’t cause serious side effects makes it a good substitute for antidepressants and benzodiazepines.

That said, the efficacy of melatonin in battling clinical depression remains debatable. Some patients even report experiencing short-lived depression-like symptoms after taking melatonin. 

This is also corroborated by the results of a recent study suggesting that people with endogenous depression have higher melatonin levels in their blood.

But for now, scientific evidence also suggests that melatonin eases depression symptoms. 

Additionally, melatonin was proven as a successful treatment for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Melatonin Benefits for Anxiety 

There are a plethora of studies underlining the use of melatonin in preparative operations before surgical intervention. One such study not only proves the existence of this hormone’s anxiolytic properties but also shows it can fight off pain.

Melatonin also proved as a suitable alternative to benzodiazepines for both pre and post-operative anxiety. That said, if you suffer from anxiety,  you’re more likely to get a prescription for CBD oils for sleep than a prescription for melatonin for anxiety.

Melatonin May Prevent Neurodegenerative Diseases

Melatonin stimulates neurogenesis (the production of new brain cells), and also aids brain cell differentiation (forming). Both processes are indispensable in mood disorders treatment.

Plus, melatonin’s solid anti-oxidative action may also serve to protect brain cells from the onslaught of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. 

Melatonin is Useful in Controlling Blood Sugar

Recent scientific evidence from animal and human studies reveals that the long-term use of melatonin (in this case, five months) is beneficial for blood sugar levels regulation. 

Melatonin Benefits in Skin Care

Melatonin’s antioxidative properties didn’t go unnoticed by the beauty industry. More than one scientific review shows that melatonin can counteract the UV-induced solar damage on the skin, thereby preventing premature aging.

That said, melatonin is only effective if administrated directly on the skin before UV irradiation. Melatonin pills aren’t that effective since only a tiny part of the hormone reaches the skin cells. 

Melatonin Can Help Treat Sleep-Unrelated Disorders

Interestingly, the list of melatonin benefits extends to treating various disorders unrelated to sleep. It includes breast and prostate cancer, hyperactivity, attention deficit syndrome, fibromyalgia, and some other chronic pain conditions. 

However, most of these benefits (as well as any possible side effects) can’t be fully verified at this moment. Still, there are several ongoing clinical trials concerning these uses.

Other non-sleep related melatonin benefits include:

  • Promoting eye health
  • Treating tinnitus symptoms
  • Aiding cancer treatment
  • Helping with metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes and insulin resistance)
  • Helping with gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., IBS, stomach ulcers, and heartburn)
  • Helping with mental health disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder)

Taking Melatonin for Sleep: How Much Is Enough?

Melatonin has an excellent safety and efficacy profile as long as you avoid excessive doses. Still, studies show that the effect of melatonin is limited, and scientists even warn that if misused, it can cause harm.

Melatonin is available in tablet form on the free market. There are also powder substances that can be applied under the tongue or rubbed into the oral cavity. Thus, melatonin is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. 

What’s the Best Melatonin Dosage for Adults?

The challenging part of taking melatonin is choosing the right timing to take it. If you take it at an inappropriate time, it can shift your biological clock in the wrong direction. This can, in turn, cause other problems, according to sleep experts.

This is why you should only take melatonin after consulting with a doctor if you really want your chronobiologic intervention to work. 

Also, keep in mind that the melatonin dose chart age and body weight sections. Just like some food supplements whose dosing isn’t that strictly regulated, melatonin is taken with approximative dosing. 

You should also bear in mind that different people may have different experiences with melatonin. For example, there are cases where people reported having better results from taking the hormone in the morning.

Melatonin for Adults

Depending on personal sensitivity and body weight, the melatonin dosage for sleep for adults is 0.5–5 mg taken 30–60 minutes before going to bed. 

Melatonin for Seniors

The 55–77 age group is more sensitive to melatonin, so the advised dosage for these patients ranges from 0.1 to 50 mg per kg of body weight. 

Research also proved that melatonin levels in older adults tend to stay high longer than in younger individuals.

Melatonin for Babies and Children — How Safe Is It?

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding 

For the time being, it’s recommended to avoid taking melatonin during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This is so even though melatonin is produced in our bodies (unlike the ingredients of some other effective OTC sleep aids).

Nevertheless, the discussion about the use of melatonin during pregnancy is a little more controversial, as it’s been considered unsuitable for pregnant women for many years.

Animal experiments indicate that taking melatonin (10 mg per kilogram of body weight) may cause certain complications (e.g., fetal weight problems). 

However, we must bear in mind that the acceptable dose of melatonin in humans amounts to 1–3 mg per day and that the doses used in animal tests mentioned above were significantly higher.

Additionally, numerous animal studies and experiments have recently shown that short-term melatonin treatment can be quite effective against some typical pregnancy complications. 

So, is melatonin safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

The most important conclusion here is that if we keep the dosage of melatonin below 3 mg per day, there’s no danger to either the fetus or mother. On the contrary, melatonin can act quite favorably within the various stages of pregnancy.

For example, a study demonstrated that the laughter and positive emotions brought on when new mothers watched an entertaining film significantly increased the levels of melatonin in their breast milk. 

This effect, in turn, reduced the risk of their babies developing allergies. The authors concluded that taking tolerated doses of melatonin is as harmful to the mother and the breastfed child as laughter or happiness. 

Melatonin for Kids 

Lack of sleep or so-called insomnia is a rare disease in children (only 6%), except in the case of hyperkinetic disorders. 

As many as 50%–75% of children with such conditions (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized developmental or autism spectrum disorders, and epilepsy) develop insomnia. 

And it’s important to note that sleep deficiency is even more detrimental to children than to adults. It can lead to various memory, concentration, and behavior complications. 

To alleviate insomnia symptoms in children, we have to exclude any sedative medicines inappropriate for them. 

This is where melatonin supplements come into play (experts recognize the inadequate melatonin synthesis as one of the possible causes of sleep disturbances in children). 

So, is melatonin safe for kids?

Melatonin is generally harmless to children, even for particularly young ones. And there are several benefits linked to its intake:

  • It shortens the time it takes to fall asleep. 
  • It reduces nighttime wakefulness.
  • It contributes to a deeper sleep in children suffering from ADHD, autism, and epilepsy. 
  • It can treat certain sleep disturbances. 

But note one thing when giving melatonin supplements to young children — you shouldn’t start with the highest dose ( melatonin of 5mg). Instead, start with the lowest dosage (0.05 mg), especially if the child is very young. The dosage can even reach 5 mg for bigger children.

Why Is Melatonin Useful to Kids? 

Melatonin synthesis plays a vital role in the body’s normal hormonal processes. It depends on the synthesis of other hormones such as cortisol, growth hormone, and testosterone in adults and children alike.

Melatonin secretion is a determining factor during puberty and is very important for sexual development. Still, the use of melatonin for sleep in kids remains controversial. According to specialists, it should be applied only for certain diagnoses such as insomnia and ADHD.

How Does Melatonin Affect Your Sleep?

Melatonin relaxes your muscles and makes you feel calm and sleepy.

However, unlike other sleep aids, melatonin doesn’t affect your sleep duration. Instead, it shortens the time you need to fall asleep and helps you create a healthier sleep schedule. 

Studies also show that people taking this hormone tend to fall asleep earlier and sleep more peacefully than usual.

In certain studies, melatonin intake increased the respondents’ REM sleep. This is why melatonin has side effects related to dreams, making them more vivid and bizarre.

Melatonin Metabolism in the Body

As is the case with most other sleep aids, melatonin concentration in the body doesn’t stay the same over time. Its concentration and effects change during the night. 

Let’s explain this step by step.

  • Usually, it takes 30–60 minutes for you to feel the calming and sleep-inducing effects of melatonin. Naturally, this depends on the dosage and your sensitivity. But does melatonin make it harder to wake up? Luckily, the answer is no. 
  • Melatonin stays in your body for up to five hours only. By the time five hours have passed, all of the melatonin will have been eliminated. In other words, the effects last for 
  • That said, melatonin’s effects are reduced by the hour before you eliminate it completely from your system. This is because of its short half-life (the time it takes for half of the dose you took to disappear from your bloodstream), lasting only 40–60 minutes. 

How Much Melatonin Is Too Much?

As we mentioned above, there are no official guidelines for melatonin dosing, but physicians should be able to advise you about the appropriate dose for you according to your age, weight, and sensitivity to melatonin.

It’s important to note that you should be particularly careful when giving melatonin to babies and very young children. According to several sources, high melatonin doses (1–5 mg) can even cause seizures.

The optimal dosage for adults, on the other hand, amounts to up to 5 mg per day, but some studies also administer doses of 10 mg. Generally, any dose nearing or surpassing 30 mg of melatonin per day leads to so-called melatonin overdose.

If you go overboard with melatonin, you risk experiencing adverse effects (e.g., feeling depressed, tired, etc.).

Precautions and Interactions

For otherwise healthy patients, melatonin is the perfect sleep supplement. However, those taking other medication or consuming certain drinks and foods should be more careful. 

Here’s what can influence melatonin:

When melatonin is combined with caffeine, its effects may remain hidden. Caffeine has the complete opposite effect of melatonin, increasing your heart rate and exciting the nervous system by improving its blood supply.

Furthermore, you should consult with a doctor for the optimal melatonin dosage if you’re taking the following medications:

  • Immunosuppressants
  • Diabetes medications
  • Certain hypertension medications
  • Anticoagulants  
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Contraceptive drugs
  • Sedative drugs
  • Anxiolytics 

Hypertensive patients that take other blood pressure control medicines should take melatonin with extreme caution due to the risk of a hypotensive crisis (low blood pressure).

Increased control of how much melatonin for sleep you take may be necessary when taking sedatives and anxiolytics.

Contraceptives and migraine medications typically enhance melatonin production physiologically. This can significantly raise the blood hormone levels, increasing the risk of side effects. 

Additionally, melatonin may weaken the effectiveness of other drugs (e.g., contraceptives). 

Finally, due to the melatonin’s pronounced immunostimulating effect, specialists suggest increased caution with the additional use of immuno-activators. 

Side Effects of Melatonin

When used for a prolonged period, melatonin can cause:

  • Headaches
  • Short-term depression 
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness 
  • Daytime tiredness 
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps

Furthermore, it may affect women’s ovulation if taken in high doses with progesterone. 

Neurologists also recommend not operating machines or driving within five hours of taking melatonin to avoid accidents. 

Melatonin Products

There’s a whole palette of melatonin-enriched products on the market right now, from more traditional forms like tablets and capsules to melatonin gummies, candy, and chocolates suitable for children. 

There are also combinations of vitamins and aroma teas and a wide variety of mouthwash products. 

As manufacturers constantly search for the perfect formula on their mission to create the best melatonin supplement, alternative options have become increasingly popular among both adults and children.

Still, according to some researchers, consumers don’t have a straightforward understanding of this rather complex and powerful hormone for it to be sold so freely.


So, should I take melatonin to help me sleep? The answer is most likely — yes! Melatonin is a safer alternative to most sleeping pills and can be equally effective. The only thing you should be careful about is taking it with certain medications.

The tricky part is also dosing it and taking it at the right moment. 

All in all, by taking this supplement, you risk no addiction and gain control over your sleep-wake cycle. So, melatonin is definitely worth a try. 


How much melatonin should I take for sleep?

The expert-recommended dose for melatonin is 0.5–5 mg a day, depending on your age, sensitivity, and body weight.  

That said, if you’re taking contraceptive pills or medication for your migraine, you should take a lower dose because these medications boost the production of natural melatonin.

Other drugs like anxiolytics, immuno-suppressants, and diabetes meds can also play a role in the optimal melatonin dose for you. So, you should definitely consult with your physician before taking this supplement. 

Can you take melatonin every day?

At the moment, scientists still haven’t figured out if long-term use of melatonin is linked to health risks. The latest available info about the longest melatonin use reports two years of continuous use. 

Generally, melatonin can be safely used for several weeks, a month, or occasionally over an extended period. 

For example, after a weekend of staying up late, a low dose of melatonin (0.3 mg) on a Sunday afternoon can help you get back to your regular bedtime and avoid any stress related to getting up early on Monday. 

But, given the information mentioned above, once your biological clock gets back in order, it’s best to discontinue the use.

Is melatonin safe for sleeping?

Melatonin is harmless for otherwise healthy individuals and children, as long as you’re able to successfully identify the right dose and timing (which can be somewhat tricky).

Side effects like nausea, diarrhea, headaches, mood swings, drowsiness that goes into the next day are typical indicators you might’ve taken too much.

Additionally, melatonin can interact with certain chronic disease medications, so it’s essential to consult with your doctor if you’re currently undergoing any type of therapy.

Can melatonin make you tired the next day?

Yes, but only if the quantity you took is too high. A well-adjusted dose of melatonin gets eliminated from your body within five hours, and it doesn’t cause drowsiness the next day. 

That said, you shouldn’t be operating any machines or driving during these five hours.

Keep in mind that overdosing on melatonin can also lead to general fatigue and grogginess the next day in children and adults alike.

How long does it take for a melatonin to kick in?

You can start feeling the calming effects (you should start feeling sleepy, calm, serene, and relaxed) within 20–40 minutes after oral intake. The intensity of the effects will depend on dosage and your sensitivity.

However, certain factors can diminish the effectiveness of melatonin:

  • Your age and body size
  • Caffeinated drinks intake
  • Alcohol intake
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Certain medications
  • Sleeping under bright lights

What are the negative effects of melatonin?

Most melatonin supplements users won’t experience any adverse effects when taking this hormone as intended.

However, those that have a melatonin sensitivity or that are prone to exceeding the recommended dose may experience:

  • Daytime tiredness 
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Short-term depression 
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness 

Should I take melatonin to help me sleep?

There are several indications for using melatonin to sleep:

  • Working in different shifts
  • Taking too long to fall asleep
  • Nighttime waking
  • Visual impairment
  • Blindness
  • Dementia
  • Dysregulation of the sleep-wake schedule
  • Jet lag

You are a good candidate for using melatonin if you don’t use medication for diabetes, blood thinners, anxiolytics, sedatives, immunosuppressants, anticoagulants, and hypertension meds.

All these modify the production and metabolism of melatonin or are less effective when taken with a melatonin supplement.

Is melatonin safe for kids?

Yes, in smaller doses (the smallest recommended dose is 0.05 mg per kg of body weight). 

Not only is melatonin harmless for generally healthy kids, but it also helps those with neurodevelopmental disorders. This includes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety, etc. 

What’s more, melatonin can help treat non-sleep-related health conditions in children like asthma and atopic dermatitis.

What is the half life of melatonin? 

Melatonin’s half life amounts to 40–60 minutes after taking the supplement. In other words, half of the dose is already processed in your body in this time frame. It usually takes 4–10 hours in total for the body to entirely metabolize melatonin. 

However, this isn’t the case with the so-called extended-release melatonin pills, also known as time-release or long-release pills. These can keep the melatonin levels in your blood stable longer and, in this way, help you not only to induce but also maintain sleep.

Is it safe to take 10mg of melatonin?

Since melatonin is considered a dietary supplement, the FDA doesn’t apply strict regulations to its use. Therefore, there are no official dosage recommendations. 

Still, though high doses of melatonin (e.g., 10 mg per day) are administered in some studies, this quantity isn’t usually recommended. Taking this much can have adverse effects on your sleep and overall health. 

For now, both scientists and physicians firmly believe that the dose of 0.5–5 mg melatonin for sleep per day is ideal for adults. 

At medical school, it was easy to realize that sleep is crucial while studying during the many sleepless nights I spent. As a new mom, when the lack of sleep became even more evident, this was the real moment when I started appreciating the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Since sleeping is so essential to our health and immune system, I took it upon myself to educate people on different aspects of sleep by sharing the valuable information I have learned.

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