What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone made by a part of the brain called the pineal gland. Melatonin helps regulate your sleep cycle. It tells your body when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
Melatonin is available as a supplement in pill form. There are two types: natural and synthetic (manmade). Natural melatonin is made from the pineal gland of animals. This form could be contaminated with a virus so it is not recommended. The synthetic form of melatonin does not carry this risk. The label on the pill bottle should list the type. If you are not sure, ask a pharmacist or doctor before you take it.
Melatonin is sold over the counter (OTC) in health food stores and drug stores in the United States. Like other dietary supplements, it is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, it is not approved for certain uses. Because of this, its purity, safety, and success cannot be guaranteed. (1)
Melatonin for sleep
Melatonin is an effective supplement that can help you fall asleep, especially if you have insomnia or jet lag. It may have other health benefits, as well. If you would like to try melatonin, start with a lower dose of 0.5–1 mg, taken 30 minutes before bed. If that doesn’t work, you can increase your dose to 3–5 mg
Path to improved health
Most people take melatonin to help treat sleep disorders. The most common one is insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. You also can take it to help prevent or treat jet lag. The typical adult dose ranges from 0.3 mg to 5 mg at bedtime. Lower doses often work as well as higher doses.
Read the directions on the label of the pill bottle. These will tell you how much melatonin to take and how often to take it. If you have questions about how to take melatonin, call your doctor or pharmacist. Do not take more than the recommended amount. Taking more melatonin does not make it work quicker or better. Overdosing on any medicine can be dangerous.
Keep a record of all medicines and supplements you take and when you take them. Take this list with you when you go to the doctor. Ask your doctor if it’s okay to take melatonin if:
- You take other prescription or OTC medicines.
- You have ongoing health problems.
- You are pregnant or nursing (it is unclear what effect melatonin can have on an unborn baby or nursing infant).
Store melatonin out of reach and sight of young children. Keep medicines and supplements in a cool, dry place. This helps prevent them from becoming less effective before they expire. Do not store them in bathrooms, which are often hot and humid.
Melatonin Side Effects
Melatonin has been used safely for up to 2 years in some people. However, it can cause some side effects including headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps, and irritability. Do not drive or use machinery for four to five hours after taking melatonin.
Things to consider
There is little scientific evidence that melatonin has a role in promoting health or treating disease. Melatonin also is not proven to slow down the aging process or prolong your life.
Some people who have taken melatonin have reported side effects. These include:
- a “heavy-head” feeling
- feeling hungover
Further study is needed to find out more about melatonin’s side effects, especially the delayed or long-term effects. It is unknown if melatonin causes problems when taken with other medicines. It also is unknown if melatonin affects people who have certain diseases and conditions.
How much Melatonin should I take?
Between two-tenths of a milligram and five milligrams 60 minutes before bedtime is a typical dose for adults, while children should take a smaller dose. Too much melatonin can disrupt your sleep cycle, so start with the smallest dose of two-tenths of a milligram and increase it as needed.
Melatonin for Adults
- For disorders that affect when a person sleeps and when they are awake: 0.5 mg to 5 mg of melatonin taken daily before bedtime for up to 6 years has been used in blind people. Also in blind people, a high dose of 10 mg taken an hour before bedtime for up to 9 weeks has also been used. 2-12 mg of melatonin taken at bedtime for up to 4 weeks has been used.
- For trouble falling asleep at a conventional bedtime (delayed sleep phase syndrome): 0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin daily for up to 9 months has been used.
- For sleep disturbance caused by certain blood pressure medicine (beta blocker-induced insomnia): 2.5 mg of melatonin taken daily for up to 4 weeks has been used. Single doses of 5 mg of melatonin have also been used.
- For endometriosis: 10 mg of melatonin taken daily for 8 weeks has been used.
- For high blood pressure: 2-3 mg of controlled-release melatonin for 4 weeks has been used.
- For insomnia:
- For primary insomnia: 2 mg to 3 mg of melatonin before bedtime for up to 29 weeks has been used in most research. Higher doses of up to 12 mg daily have also been used for shorter durations (up to 4 weeks).
- For secondary insomnia:2-12 mg for up to 4 weeks has been used. Lower doses have also been used for up to 24 weeks.
- For jet lag: 0.5-8 mg of melatonin at bedtime is commonly taken on the day of arrival at the destination, continuing for 2 to 5 days. Low doses of 0.5-3 mg are often used to avoid the side effects of the higher doses.
- For reducing anxiety before surgery: 3-10 mg of melatonin taken 60-90 minutes before surgery has been used.
- For tumors without cysts or liquid (solid tumors) in combination with conventional therapy: 10-40 mg of melatonin daily, along with radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or interleukin 2 (IL-2), has been used. Melatonin is typically started 7 days before the start of chemotherapy and continued throughout the full treatment course. 20 mg of melatonin intravenously daily for 2 months, followed by 10 mg of oral melatonin daily, has also been used.
- For a group of painful conditions that affect the jaw joint and muscle (temporomandibular disorders or TMD): 5 mg of melatonin at bedtime for 4 weeks has been used.
- For low levels of platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia) associated with cancer chemotherapy: 20-40 mg of melatonin daily beginning up to 7 days before chemotherapy and continuing throughout chemotherapy cycles have been used.
INTRAMUSCULAR (into the muscle):
- For tumors without cysts or liquid (solid tumors) in combination with conventional therapy: 20 mg of melatonin intramuscularly daily for 2 months, followed by 10 mg of oral melatonin daily, has been used.
APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
- For sunburn: A gel containing 0.05% to 2.5% melatonin, applied either 15 minutes before or up to 4 hours after sun exposure, has been used. A cream containing 12.5% melatonin, applied to the skin before sun exposure, has been used.
UNDER THE TONGUE:
- For reducing anxiety before surgery: 5 mg or 0.05-0.2 mg/kg of body weight taken 90-100 minutes before anesthesia has been used.
Melatonin for Kids
- For disorders that affect when a person sleeps and when they are awake: 0.5-4 mg of melatonin daily for up to 6 years has been used in blind people. 0.5-12 mg of melatonin daily for up to 12 weeks has been used in children and adolescents 3 months to 18 years old.
- For trouble falling asleep at a conventional bedtime (delayed sleep phase syndrome): 1-6 mg of melatonin before bedtime for up to one month has been used.
- For insomnia:
- For primary insomnia, 5 mg or 0.05-0.15 mg/kg of body weight taken at bedtime for 4 weeks has been used in children 6-12 years-old with primary insomnia.
- For secondary insomnia: 6-9 mg of melatonin taken before bedtime for 4 weeks, has been used in children with seizures 3-12 years-old.
- For reducing anxiety before surgery: 0.05-0.5 mg/kg of body weight has been taken before anesthesia in children 1-14 years-old.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How do I know if I should take melatonin supplements?
- Is it best to take melatonin in the short-term or long-term?
- Is it more or less safe to take melatonin than other OTC or prescription medicines?
- Is melatonin safe for children to take?