Melatonin is one of the most popular natural supplements in the world. Here in the U.S. alone, millions of people use melatonin to help them fall asleep and get a good night’s rest. Naturally occurring in your body, melatonin is relatively safe, and unlike prescription sleep aids, it’s not addictive.
But there is a downside to melatonin that rarely gets enough attention. When used safely and only on the advice of your primary healthcare provider, melatonin is a great, natural way to keep your body healthy by ensuring regular, healthy sleep. Exceeding the recommended dose or taking it at the wrong time, however, can cause problems.
What Is Melatonin & How Does It Work?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in your brain. It helps regulate your body’s internal clock. More specifically, it’s the brain’s way of signaling the rest of your body that it’s time to sleep.
It’s a pretty clever little hormone—it knows when it’s dark out. Darkness causes your body to produce more melatonin, which then provides that sleep signal and helps you fall asleep. Light, on the other hand, decreases melatonin production and signals your body that it’s time to wake up and be alert.
It’s believed that some people who struggle when falling or staying asleep may not be producing enough natural melatonin. Thus, melatonin supplements are often extremely helpful in simply regulating that natural sleep-wake cycle by providing supplemental melatonin… but only at the appropriate time of day.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Too many people make the mistake of thinking that if a little melatonin helps, a lot will certainly help more. Unfortunately, that’s not only wrong, but it’s also a dangerous line of thinking.
Taking too much melatonin can actually wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. It can also cause side effects like headaches, nausea, dizziness and irritability—all impediments to getting a good night’s sleep. Overdoing it or taking a second dose can even cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and then struggle to get back to sleep. As with any supplement, follow the recommended dosage listed on the package or instructed to you by your doctor.
When Should You Take Melatonin?
Timing is a concern with melatonin. Remember, your body should naturally produce more melatonin when it starts to get dark outside, so if you take supplemental melatonin too early in the evening before the sun starts to set (or before you’re actually ready to fall asleep for the night), you’re throwing off that natural cycle your body is already trying to maintain. Don’t fight that natural flow.
Melatonin can be very beneficial at times when you know your regular sleep schedule is going to get disrupted. For example, if you’re flying across several time zones (jetlag) or having a big week at work that will require lots of successive late nights, melatonin supplements can help you get back into your natural rhythm.
There’s another timing issue to be aware of, too. As you age, your body naturally produces less and less melatonin. If you’re over 60 and struggle with falling or staying asleep, this may be part of the problem.
In general, start with 0.3 -1 mg of melatonin about 60-90 minutes before you plan to actually fall asleep. This amount of time will allow your brain to recognize the supplemental melatonin, trigger that sleep signal and help you fall asleep.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
It’s a proven fact that kids who sleep well do better academically and are less likely to be overweight, get injured playing sports or get sick. In fact, some believe that a good portion of kids who have trouble focusing simply have poor sleep habits and aren’t rested enough to focus as they should in the classroom.
So if sleep is that important, is it safe to give your child melatonin to help them get the rest they need? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough research on melatonin use in kids to be safe for sure. It is a hormone, so it must be used carefully, but many parents find that very low dose liquid melatonin used on a limited basis can greatly help their son or daughter fall asleep.
Parents may use liquid melatonin to help their child fall asleep on vacation after a long day or two of travel or when naps just don’t seem to fit into a busy schedule. In this case, the melatonin is used as a shift worker would use it to readjust their sleep-wake cycle after being off rhythm for a bit. In both cases, the use is on a very short-term, limited basis. We recommend discussing with your doctor before using melatonin on children.
The best thing to do with kids is to do what you’re taught as new parents: establish a good night time routine, dim the lights in the house about half an hour before putting the little one to bed, put the screens away, etc.
Melatonin Dosage Fact Sheet
- Trouble Falling Asleep: 0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin daily for up to 9 months
- Disrupted Sleep-Wake Cycle: 2 to 12 mg taken at bedtime for up to 4 weeks
- Extended Difficulty Sleeping: 2 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)
- Supporting Blood Pressure Levels: 2 to 3 mg of a controlled-release melatonin for up to 4 weeks
- Jet Lag: 0.5 to 8 mg at bedtime is commonly taken on the arrival day at the destination, continuing for 2 to 5 days