Here’s what you need to know about taking melatonin, the sleep hormone
12/18/2019 // Darnel Fernandez // Views

Sleep is one of the most important things the human body needs to perform at an optimal level. Unfortunately, getting enough quality sleep has become a rarity nowadays. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 50 to 70 million American adults have chronic sleep disorders.

Poor sleep can have drastic health consequences such as lowering productivity and increasing your risk of diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Now, people are looking toward melatonin supplements to help combat a wide range of sleep issues, including shift work sleep disorder and insomnia.

Nature's sleeping pill

The pattern of sleeping at night when the sun is down and waking up in the morning when the sun is up is a natural part of human life. This process happens thanks to the hormone melatonin, which is responsible for regulating the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This sleep hormone is produced by the pineal gland in the brain in response to changes in lighting. In low light, high levels of melatonin can help you fall asleep. However, it does not knock you out on its own. It only changes how your body responds to darkness, helping it enter a rhythm of nighttime drowsiness. (Related: Melatonin is the super sleep hormone.)

Exposure to light at night can hinder the production of natural melatonin. This fact emphasizes the importance of sleeping in a dark room. According to a study published in the journal Neuron, zebrafish with a rare mutation that prevented them from producing melatonin had dramatically reduced sleep at night. The findings suggest that both melatonin and changes in light are responsible for helping the body fall asleep.


Melatonin supplements have grown in popularity over the years, with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reporting that 3.1 million American adults are using a form of melatonin supplement. These supplements are especially useful for people whose bodies cannot produce enough melatonin. An example of which is those who sleep during the day because they work a night shift.

Also, melatonin supplements can even improve sleep in people who produce a normal amount of melatonin, but still have trouble sleeping at night for various reasons such as sleep disorders. A meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS One investigated the efficacy of melatonin in improving sleep in patients with sleeping disorders. The researchers found that participants who took melatonin fell asleep much faster compared to those who took a placebo among 1,683 study participants. Melatonin supplementation also increased their total sleep time and improved their overall sleep quality.

Dosage for melatonin supplements can vary from person to person. Metabolism, body weight and overall health can all influence the way the body reacts to melatonin. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a typical dose for an average American adult should be around 0.2 mg to 5 mg each day, which should be taken about an hour before going to bed. 

Potential side effects

Although melatonin is considered a natural chemical produced by the body, it is essential to treat it the same way you would any other medication. This means watching out for potential side effects. One of the most common side effects of taking melatonin supplements is drowsiness. People may find themselves feeling very sleepy or tired when they wake up in the morning after taking a dose of melatonin. One way to circumvent this side effect is by taking melatonin much earlier in the evening or even reducing the dosage to help ensure you get enough sleep and wake up feeling energized. Other potential side effects of melatonin supplementation include nausea, dizziness and headaches. 

Like with other dietary supplements, people who are taking other medicines should consult their healthcare provider before using melatonin. While unlikely, it is entirely possible for melatonin to interact negatively with other drugs, triggering unwanted side effects. Also, you should look out for possible allergic reactions to melatonin supplements. People who notice signs of an allergic reaction should contact their physician immediately.

Sources include: [PDF]

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