Melatonin: How Much is Right for You?
Melatonin is one of the most popular sleep supplements in the world. In the US alone, more than three million people use melatonin supplements to help them fall asleep and wake up less during the night.1 Melatonin occurs naturally in your body, is relatively safe and unlike some prescription sleep aids, melatonin isn’t addictive.
When used in low doses, melatonin is safe in most cases and it's a great way to keep your body healthy by encouraging regular, restful sleep.2 All the same, always seek the advice of your primary health care provider before using melatonin as a sleep aid. Never exceed the recommended dose or take it during the day.
What Is Melatonin & How Does It Work?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in your brain. It is responsible for helping maintain your body’s circadian rhythm, which is your natural, 24-hour sleep and wake cycle. Your body should naturally produce and release more melatonin in the evening and at night, with levels falling in the morning.4 The production of melatonin is your brain’s way of telling your body that it’s time to sleep.
It’s a pretty clever little hormone—it knows when it’s dark or light out! Darkness causes your body to produce more melatonin, which then provides a sleep signal and helps you fall asleep. Exposure to light, on the other hand, decreases melatonin production and signals your body that it’s time to wake up and be alert.
Research suggests that some people who struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep may not produce enough natural melatonin.5 Thus, melatonin supplements are often used to help regulate their natural sleep and wake cycles. But melatonin supplements should only be used at the appropriate time of day, and only in recommended amounts.
Too Much Melatonin
Some people make the mistake of thinking that if a little melatonin helps, a lot will certainly help more. Unfortunately, that's not only wrong, it’s also a dangerous line of thinking.
Taking too much melatonin can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. It can also cause aches, nausea, dizziness and irritability—which are all impediments to restorative sleep. Overdoing it with melatonin supplements or taking it a second time may even cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep. As with any supplement, follow the recommended intake listed on the package or instructions provided by your doctor.
When Should You Take Melatonin?
Timing is important 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 are actually ready to fall asleep for the night—you risk throwing off the natural cycle your body is trying to maintain. Don’t fight that natural flow.
Melatonin can be very beneficial when your regular sleep schedule gets disrupted. For example, if you’ve flown across several time zones and have jetlag, or if it’s a big week at work that requires successive late nights. In situations like those, 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 may naturally produce less and less melatonin. If you are over 60 and struggle with falling asleep or are waking up during the night, low melatonin production may be part of the problem.
How Much Melatonin Should I Take?
It's best to take the lowest amount of melatonin that gives you results. In general, healthy adults may take 0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin about 60 to 90 minutes before planning to fall asleep.6 That amount of time will allow your brain to recognize the supplemental melatonin and trigger the signal to help you fall asleep.
Melatonin Dosage for Adults
- Melatonin for Trouble Falling Asleep
0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin, not to exceed nine months, may help people who have trouble falling asleep6
- Melatonin for Disrupted Sleep-Wake Cycle
2 mg to 12 mg taken at bedtime for up to four weeks may help get your natural rhythm back on track6
- Melatonin for Extended Difficulty Sleeping
Most research studies have used 2 mg to 3 mg of controlled-release melatonin for up to 29 weeks. Doses of up to 12 mg daily have also been studied for shorter durations (up to four weeks)6
- Melatonin for Blood Pressure Support
2 mg to 3 mg of a controlled-release melatonin for up to four weeks6
- Melatonin for Jet Lag
0.5 mg to 8 mg at bedtime is commonly taken starting the night of arrival at your destination, continuing for two to five days6
The above intake amounts have been studied scientifically, but always check with your doctor first before supplementing your melatonin to find the safest intake for your individual needs.6
Melatonin for Sleep
When you search for the best melatonin to help you sleep, you’ll find many different melatonin dosages and types of melatonin supplements—from time-release formulas to sublingual melatonin. There are advantages to each formulation and plenty of options to get the best melatonin dose and delivery for you. Here are a few melatonin supplements available from Swanson Health.
Low Dose Melatonin from Swanson Premium (melatonin 0.5 mg)
Melatonin can be powerful, and for some people, a little is all they need to give their sleep patterns a slight adjustment. Our low-potency option from Swanson Premium features 500 mcg (0.5 mg) of melatonin in each veggie capsule, enabling more precise supplementation so you can get the amount that’s right for you.
Sublingual Melatonin from Source Naturals (melatonin 1 mg)
Sublingual melatonin is taken under the tongue for quick absorption. This orange-flavored sublingual liquid delivers 1 mg of melatonin in each dropperful. Melatonin is useful for occasional sleeplessness and is a favorite of travelers to help govern the body’s circadian rhythms and help ease the body into restful sleep. This sublingual melatonin contains no yeast, dairy, egg, gluten, soy or wheat. It contains neither sugar, salt nor artificial color, flavor or fragrance.
Extended Release Melatonin from Source Naturals (melatonin 2 mg)
Source Naturals Timed Release Melatonin delivers 2 mg of melatonin in each time release tablet, which slowly releases melatonin to support quality sleep throughout the night, govern the body's circadian rhythms and help the body ease into restful sleep. This slow release melatonin supplement also contains 31 mg of calcium.
Dual-Release Melatonin from Swanson Ultra (melatonin 3 mg)
Our dual-release formula delivers 1.5 mg of melatonin right away, when you need it most, and another 1.5 mg of melatonin is gradually released throughout the night to ensure that you get the rest you deserve.
Time-Release Melatonin from Natrol® (melatonin 5 mg & vitamin B-6)
This time-release melatonin formula from Natrol® provides an initial release of melatonin to help you fall asleep fast, followed by a steady release or melatonin throughout the night to help you stay asleep. It also provides vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxine Hydrochloride). The melatonin in this supplement helps establish normal sleep patterns to promote a more restful, relaxing sleep along with vitamin B6, essential for melatonin production. This time release melatonin formula contains no yeast, wheat, corn, milk, eggs, soy, gluten, artificial colors/flavors or preservatives.
Melatonin Calm Sleep Fast Dissolve from Natrol® (melatonin 6 mg)
This supplement helps your body settle and prepare for healthy, restful sleep. Each tablet delivers 6 mg of melatonin. Natrol® has combined the power of L-theanine with melatonin to help you relax naturally in one strawberry-flavored tablet. The fast-dissolving formula delivers rapid dissolve technology to help promote fast absorption.
Triple Strength Melatonin by Swanson Ultra (melatonin 10 mg)
Our high-potency Triple Strength Melatonin capsules deliver 10 mg of pure melatonin. This super-strength formula provides a high dose of melatonin, which also acts as an antioxidant to combat the free radical damage associated with aging.
Is Melatonin Safe for Children?
Children who sleep well may have better academic performance and fewer weight concerns. They also may be less likely to get injured playing sports and have healthier immune systems. In fact, some experts believe that many children who have trouble focusing simply have poor sleep habits and aren’t rested well enough to pay attention as they should in the classroom.7
With good sleep so 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 children to be sure. Melatonin is a hormone, so it must be used carefully, but some research suggests that a very low dose of liquid melatonin used on a limited basis may help children fall asleep.8
Melatonin for Kids
Some parents use liquid melatonin to help their child fall asleep when sleeping patterns have been disrupted, such as on vacation, after a long day or two of travel or when a busy schedule hasn’t provided adequate time for naps. This is similar to how a shift-worker might use melatonin to readjust their sleep-wake cycle after getting out of rhythm due to changing work schedules. In both cases, the use is very short-term. We recommend discussing with your doctor before giving melatonin to children.
The best way to help children sleep better is to do what you were probably taught as new parents: establish a good nighttime routine such as putting electronics and screens away and dimming the lights in the house about a half-hour before putting your children to bed.
Melatonin Dosage for Kids
If you do decide to give your child melatonin after talking with your doctor, try the lowest dose that your doctor recommends. Melatonin dosages for children often range between 0.5 mg to 6 mg,9 but never use more than necessary. Start with a very low dose 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Only increase the dosage if necessary, and never go with a higher dose than your doctor recommends.
Does Melatonin Have Side Effects? Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
Melatonin has a reputation for being safe, and for the most part, that’s true, although there are some medications that can interact with melatonin.10 But it’s important to know that the right amount of melatonin for one person may be too much for another, and the side effects of a taking too much melatonin will also vary from person to person.10
With the availability of supplemental melatonin in high doses, it may be tempting to reach for the highest number right away, but the best approach is to start with a very low dose and stick with the minimum effective dose for you. The “more is better” philosophy does not apply to melatonin.
Side Effects of Too Much Melatonin
- Next-day drowsiness—taking too much melatonin can result in feeling sluggish the next morning or sleepy during unintended times.10
- Intense Dreams—some people have reported having intense dreams or nightmares after taking too much melatonin. 10
- Melatonin for Kids—because it is a hormone, side effects in children may be more problematic than in adults.10 Always talk to a doctor before giving melatonin to a child.
- Hypothermic Effect—with the natural release of melatonin comes a natural decrease in body temperature, so going overboard can exacerbate that natural effect.11
General Melatonin Side Effects & Warnings
It’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning any new dietary supplement, especially if you are on a prescription medication, have a health condition, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
That said, melatonin still ranks as “likely safe” when taken for up to two years if used properly and “possibly safe” for long term use.12 Some people have complained of headache, dizziness, stomach cramps, short-term feelings of depression and irritability.12
- Pregnancy & Breastfeeding—women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not advised to use melatonin supplements because not enough is known about potential effects.1,3 Melatonin supplements may also interfere with ovulation, making it more difficult to get pregnant.12
- Blood Sugar & Blood Pressure—people suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure should consult their doctor before taking supplemental melatonin as it can increase blood sugar in diabetics and raise blood pressure in people who take certain blood pressure medications.12
- Depression—melatonin may worsen symptoms of depression and cause short-term feelings of depression.12
The best advice is to start low and go slow. In other words, don’t immediately go for the highest dose you can find. Ultimately, the low .3-1 mg pill might be just what your tired body needs.
Melatonin for Better Sleep
Melatonin supplements are an excellent way to easy your body into restful sleep and help get your sleeping patterns back on track. As we mentioned, always talk with your doctor about the best melatonin dosage for your needs. We hope this article has helped you better understand your choices and how to use melatonin for sleep.
Do you take melatonin for sleep? How does it work for you? If you want more tips for sleeping better, read Zealous About Zzzs: Sleep Benefits & Sleep Hacks for Everyone and 10 Tips for Better Sleep.
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About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health
Lindsey is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for ice cream. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food.
Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
1 National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health. Melatonin. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2012/natural-products/melatonin (Accessed 1/19/2018)
2 What is Melatonin? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/tc/melatonin-overview#1 (Accessed 1/19/2018)
4 Melatonin: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin (Accessed 1/19/2018)
5 Neurobiology, Pathophysiology, and Treatment of Melatonin Deficiency and Dysfunction. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3354573/ (Accessed 1/19/2018)
6 Melatonin. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-940-melatonin.aspx?activeingredientid=940 (Accessed 1/19/2018)
7 Why Your Child's Behavior May Not Mean ADHD. St. Louis Children’s Hospital. http://www.stlouischildrens.org/articles/wellness/why-your-childs-behavior-may-not-mean-adhd (Accessed 1/19/2018)
8 Melatonin for Sleep in Children with Autism: A Controlled Trial Examining Dose, Tolerability, and Outcomes. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3368078/ (Accessed 1/19/2018)
9 Melatonin and Children. Sleep Health Foundation. https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Melatonin-and-Children.pdf (Accessed 3/09/2018)
10 Can you overdose on melatonin? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320094.php (Accessed 8/09/2018)
11 The hypothermic effect of melatonin on core body temperature: is more better? PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8836952 (Accessed 8/09/2018)
12 Melatonin. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-940/melatonin (Accessed 8/09/2018)