Melatonin For Sleep Is Not a Simple Solution

melatonin pills

More is not necessarily better when it comes to melatonin.

Starting melatonin? Look for low-dose melatonin (1 mg)—it’s not always easy to find.

Can’t sleep? Take melatonin, people say.

Melatonin can help you if your days and nights are all mixed up for whatever reason. It’s valuable for shift workers who are trying to sleep at night after a string of night shifts. It’s also valuable for people who are switching time zones.

If you’re not having to shift your bedtime, it’s not that useful. In that case, you’re better off seeking other solutions to your sleeping problems.

Melatonin isn’t a sleeping pill. It’s a hormone replacement. In its natural form, melatonin is a hormone produced by your body in the pineal gland. It’s unlikely you’re deficient. Chances are, it’s your circadian rhythm that’s thrown off between stressors in your life, nighttime smartphone use, and other influences. For your body, sometimes it’s like you’re living in a whole different time zone from the one you’re actually living in.

If you’re a shift worker, chances are that your body is releasing melatonin at the wrong time. It’s mixed up. You’re taking stimulants when you should be getting ready for bed and the opposite at another time.

Melatonin is commonly used, and its use is rising. In the United States, 1.3 percent of adults said they took melatonin supplements within the last 30 days, according to one 2012 survey. By 2019, the number was up to 2.1 percent.

Chances are, at least some of these people would be better served by trying something else. It’s doubtful that there was a doubling of night-shift workers.

Melatonin, whether produced naturally by your body or taken as a supplement, tells your body that it’s time to go to bed. Its level is higher earlier in the night, lessening in toward morning.

Is 1 mg of melatonin effective?

Yes, as far as melatonin itself is effective. Doses available in supplements in the United States are often three to 10 times what the body needs. This comes down to marketing. People are always thinking in terms of “more is better.” When it comes to something like melatonin, more is not better. You want enough melatonin. That’s it. Enough. When you have too much melatonin, possible side effects include headaches, nausea, grogginess, and irritability. Nothing about any of those symptoms says “sleep.”

The correct dose of melatonin is 0.3 mg to 1.0 mg.

If all you can find are higher dosages, cut pills to get the correct dosage. With melatonin gummies; it’s harder but not impossible. Gummies don’t snap apart. You’d be better off cutting them with a knife.

When it comes to melatonin, it doesn’t matter if you use the one intended for children. The dosage is the same.

Provided you’re not a time zone traveler or a shift worker, more effective ways of helping yourself get to sleep are ensuring you get outside during the day or at least have exposure to the sun.

You also want to eat a healthy diet (and that includes eating a heavy meal within an hour or two of going to bed).

You also want to make sure that you’re not taking caffeine or any other stimulant more than eight hours before heading to bed.

In addition to helping you in other ways, those actions, these sleep skills, can be more important than any sleep aid you take.

Many companies offer free training in the basics of sleep hygiene through their learning management systems. You owe it to yourself to develop a routine.

Use a quality melatonin supplement

It’s a good idea to make sure you’re taking a quality melatonin supplement if you’re going to take one. Look for the “USP Verified” mark, or make sure the manufacturer is on this list of companies who voluntarily submit product samples to the United States Pharmacopeia. This helps to ensure that what the manufacturer says is in the supplement is actually in it. Supplements are unregulated by the FDA so while the manufacturer says they’re accurate, the USP verifies that what they say is true.

In the Amazon low-dose melatonin links below, Natrol is the only one who participates in the USP verification program.

How long does melatonin take to work?

Take 1 mg of melatonin 30 minutes to one hour before going to bed.

Avoid habituation

As with any supplement or medication, with long-term consistent use of melatonin, one can habituate to it. When that happens, it stops working well.

High-dose melatonin is a bad idea, even if it’s well tolerated. There are side effects and, if the lower doses aren’t working, a lack of melatonin in your system isn’t the cause of your sleep trouble.

Don’t become reliant on melatonin every night.

As a long-term nightshift worker (more than 20 years in total), I’ll take a low-dose melatonin to help me sleep at night during my days off.

When I’m working several days in a row, I won’t take melatonin. I don’t need it to sleep during the day because I’m tired enough to sleep.

Melatonin supplementation can be a good thing, but what’s more important sometimes is what you avoid. And I’ve found that the number one thing to avoid is drinking too many energy drinks and coffee drinks.

If you must drink something, drink more water!

For more information about working the night shift well, check out Secrets To Working Night Shifts Regularly While Staying Healthy.

James Cobb, RN, MSN is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System, a blog dedicated to the promotion of sleep hygiene. He has over 20 years of experience in taking melatonin supplements and encourages everyone to follow the “Five Rights” of medication: Right Dose; Right Time; Right Route; Right Person; and Right Medication (in this case, Right Supplement)!

This site contains some affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission. This has no effect on our opinions. 

Updated Oct. 16, 2023


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