When most people think about natural sleep aids, melatonin is the first that comes to mind...and for good reason. Many people with sleep problems have found it to be incredibly effective in supporting the quality and quantity of sleep. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's for everyone—you'll hear us say this a LOT at Proper, but sleep isn't one-size-fits-all.
Below, we break down what you need to know about the use of melatonin, including who it's best for, how to take it, recommended dose, the science behind it, potential side effects, and—if it's not for you—a handful of evidence-backed alternatives to help you sleep better.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, then released into the bloodstream. Quantities naturally increase as the sun goes down and decrease during daytime hours and exposure to bright light, thus regulating the sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm).
When it’s produced within our bodies, it goes by the name endogenous melatonin; however, some also choose to supplement their natural levels as a way to effectively adjust and regulate their body's internal clock.
Who melatonin is best for
Melatonin is best for those suffering from circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as:
- Jet lag
Officially known as "Rapid Time Zone Change Syndrome," jet lag messes with your sleep times and wake times as you cross into new time zones, especially when traveling east.
- Shift Work Disorder
Shift workers with inconsistent schedules have been found to get upwards of four fewer hours of sleep than the average person due to disrupted melatonin production.
- Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPS)
Night owls who fall asleep late but have a hard time getting up in the morning (common with teens and young adults). (1)
- Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder
Early birds whose body clock causes them to fall asleep and wake up on the early side (common with older adults).
- Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder
When someone's sleep patterns are flipped upside down due to one-too-many naps over a 24-hour period.
READ MORE: Guide To Circadian Rhythms
How to select a melatonin supplement
Because supplements are less strictly regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), it's important to do your research to ensure it contains what it says it does and is not contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides. Here's what to look for when selecting a melatonin supplement for short-term or longer-term use:
- Third-party tested for purity and verified free of heavy metals, microbes, and pesticides
- U.S. manufactured and produced in an FDA-approved, "Good Manufacturing Practices"-compliant facility
- Botanical extracts standardized to guarantee consistent purity, potency, and efficacy
- Free of artificial colors or binders
- Vegan, gluten/dairy/sugar-free, non-GMO
How to take melatonin
As an over-the-counter dietary supplement, melatonin is sold in pill, capsule, chewable, or liquid form. In most cases, it should be taken 30-40 minutes before bed.
Standard vs extended-release melatonin
Standard melatonin has been shown to support the initiation of sleep, whereas MicroActive® (MA) extended-release melatonin has been shown in dissolution studies to provide support throughout the night rather than just during the first hour. You'll find that many melatonin supplements (such as Proper's!) contain both.
How long does it take for melatonin to kick in?
Everyone metabolizes ingredients at different rates, but generally speaking, levels of melatonin begin to rise in your bloodstream about 30 minutes after taking the supplement.
Recommended dose of melatonin
Between 0.2 (low dose) and 5mg is considered a safe starting dosage for adults. (2)
Does melatonin work?
As is the case with all natural sleep supplements, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your sleep and overall health must be evaluated holistically to help you understand and solve the issue(s) at hand.
That being said, there is research supporting the efficacy of melatonin. One meta-analysis in particular, (3) which compared melatonin against placebo in improving sleep parameters for patients with primary sleep disorders, showed that the supplement reduced sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep) by 7.06 minutes and increased total sleep time by 8.25 minutes. Also promising was the fact that trials with a longer duration and higher doses of melatonin demonstrated greater effects on decreasing sleep latency and increasing total sleep time.
Safety of melatonin
Side effects of melatonin:
A small percentage of melatonin users have been found to experience daytime drowsiness, sleepiness, headaches, and dizziness; however, there is no evidence of a risk for serious, clinically significant adverse events (AEs). (4) As a precautionary measure, it’s recommended that users not drive or use machinery for four to five hours after taking melatonin.
Those with epilepsy, as well as those taking high blood pressure and blood thinner medications, should consult their healthcare provider prior as they need to be on medical supervision while taking melatonin supplements. (5)
Is it safe to take melatonin when pregnant?
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of research on the safety of melatonin for pregnant/breastfeeding women. We recommend consulting your doctor for more information and personalized medical advice.
Can my child take melatonin?
While studies have shown that melatonin use in children is safe, it is unclear regarding long-term use. (6) Please consult your child's healthcare provider for pediatric questions and recommendations around the use of melatonin.
Can I take melatonin every night?
Unfortunately, there are not enough long-term studies to definitively confirm the safety of melatonin for long-term use in adults.
Is there an alternative to melatonin?
Absolutely...there are many! Melatonin, although widely used, produces varied results. It works great for some with sleep issues, but not for others. In fact, Ruchir Patel, MD, MB, BCh, FACP, a fellowship-trained sleep medicine specialist who’s double board-certified in Sleep Medicine and Internal Medicine, has found over the last 10+ years in his sleep medicine clinic that about 50% of patients actually note a positive response from melatonin.
Fortunately, there’s a range of alternative, clinically-studied natural sleep aids that have been proven to improve the duration and quality of sleep while ensuring you wake up refreshed the next day, including:
Learn more about the science behind WHY these ingredients work in our complete guide.