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Does Melatonin Help Sleep

Does Melatonin Help Sleep

Research showing improved sleep has led to the promotion of dietary supplements as a cure-all for sleep distress. But does melatonin help sleep when taken in a pill form?  Read on to learn about melatonin and sleep.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a compound produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It works as an antioxidant to prevent inflammation.


It also acts as a hormone and improves sleep, immune function, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar [R, R, R].

How Does Melatonin Work?

Melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm. This internal clock is what makes people fall asleep [R]. 


These clocks follow a 24-hour cycle. Melatonin levels should fluctuate depending on what the body is exposed to. At night an increase in melatonin should be produced in response to darkness. Daylight will cause melatonin to decrease [R]. 


Those with low or deficient levels of melatonin may have trouble falling asleep and poor sleep quality [R]. 

How Does Melatonin Help Sleep?

Sleep latency is reduced when taking melatonin. So if you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep melatonin may be helpful [R]. 


Melatonin supplementation may also improve sleep quality [R]. Doses of melatonin in 5 mg were associated with improved sleep quality. It also reduced the amount of sleep needed for a good night’s rest [R]. 


Studies credit melatonin with improving circadian rhythms and enhancing the ability to fall and stay asleep. [R]. 


Those with low levels of melatonin and circadian rhythm disorders are at risk for sleep disorders.  


Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD) is a condition where your circadian rhythm is out of whack. The time you fall asleep is delayed. This means going to bed later and having trouble getting up in the morning [R]. 


In those with DSWPD, melatonin supplements reduced the total time it took to fall asleep [R]. [R]. 


Melatonin has been shown to have positive effects on insomnia with few side effects in the short-term [R].


Melatonin may also benefit healthy people. It improved the total time spent asleep. Those who suffer from daytime sleepiness also benefited from melatonin use [R]. 

Risks and Contraindications of Melatonin

Melatonin supplements come from the pineal glands of beef cattle or are made synthetically in a lab [R]. 


Melatonin is considered a drug in some countries but is not regulated in the United States [R]. 


Look for a melatonin supplement that is tested by a third party for adequate standards.  


It is important to be aware of possible side effects and contraindications of melatonin use.

Side Effects of Melatonin Supplements

There have been adverse effects seen with the use of melatonin. These include [R]: 


  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Weird dreams and/or nightmares
  • Short-term depression
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Contraindications of Melatonin Use

Melatonin used in the short-term is safe. Longer-term effects are unknown [R].  Melatonin may also interact with medications such as [R]:  


  • Sedatives
  • Birth control pills
  • Immunosuppressant drugs
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Diabetic medications
  • Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Verapamil
  • Flumazenil

Caffeine also interacts with melatonin and may weaken its effectiveness.


Melatonin is not recommended for those with liver disease. Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid melatonin [R].  


Melatonin increases sleepiness. Driving should not be done 4 to 5 hours after taking it [R].

Recommended Dose of Melatonin for Sleep

The guidelines for taking melatonin supplements have been set up by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). This organization helps to improve sleep health. 


In in their publication, Clinical Sleep Medicine taking melatonin is recommended as a treatment for certain sleep issues including:


  • Circadian rhythm sleep-wake phase disorders
  • Jet lag disorder from being in a new time zone
  • Shift work disorder

A newer clinical practice guideline from the AASM says to avoid using melatonin as a treatment for certain forms of insomnia including those who have problems falling asleep and/or staying asleep [R]. 


The best melatonin dose is between 0.5 and 5 mg. These amounts are recommended for regulating sleep. You want to start with 0.5 mg 30 minutes before bed. If that amount doesn’t work you can work your way up to 3 to 5 mg. 


The recommended doses of melatonin for insomnia not related to falling and staying asleep fall are between 2 and 3 mg. This has been safely used for up to 29 weeks. Taking up to 12 mg daily for up to 4 weeks may also be helpful [R].  Taking excess melatonin does not improve the effects so avoid overdosing [R]. 

Foods with Melatonin

Incorporating certain foods into the diet can naturally increase melatonin levels. These include the following [R]: 


  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Black rice
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Soybeans
  • Nuts
  • Mushrooms

Final Thoughts on Melatonin and Sleep

Melatonin regulates many body processes. Its positive effects on sleep have made it a popular dietary supplement. Though melatonin offers some promise for sleep health there is still a lot we don’t know about this supplement and its long-term effects. Melatonin could be harmful to certain individuals. Those with health conditions or on medications should talk to a health professional who can provide medical advice as to whether or not taking melatonin supplements is right for them.

Resources 

  1. Meng, Xiao, Ya Li, Sha Li, Yue Zhou, Ren-You Gan, Dong-Ping Xu, and Hua-Bin Li. 2017. “Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin.” Nutrients 9 (4). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409706/
  2. Altun, A., and B. Ugur-Altun. 2007. “Melatonin: Therapeutic and Clinical Utilization.” International Journal of Clinical Practice 61 (5): 835–45. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17298593/ 
  3. Lee, Jung Goo, Young Sup Woo, Sung Woo Park, Dae-Hyun Seog, Mi Kyoung Seo, and Won-Myong Bahk. 2019. “The Neuroprotective Effects of Melatonin: Possible Role in the Pathophysiology of Neuropsychiatric Disease.” Brain Sciences 9 (10). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826722/
  4. Haspel, Jeffrey A., Ron Anafi, Marishka K. Brown, Nicolas Cermakian, Christopher Depner, Paula Desplats, Andrew E. Gelman, et al. 2020. “Perfect Timing: Circadian Rhythms, Sleep, and Immunity - an NIH Workshop Summary.” JCI Insight 5 (1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7030790/
  5. “Melatonin: What You Need To Know.” n.d. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know 
  6. Riemann, Dieter, Torsten Klein, Andrea Rodenbeck, Bernd Feige, Andrea Horny, Ruth Hummel, Gesa Weske, Anam Al-Shajlawi, and Ulrich Voderholzer. 2002. “Nocturnal Cortisol and Melatonin Secretion in Primary Insomnia.” Psychiatry Research 113 (1-2): 17–27. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12467942/
  7. Ferracioli-Oda, Eduardo, Ahmad Qawasmi, and Michael H. Bloch. 2013. “Meta-Analysis: Melatonin for the Treatment of Primary Sleep Disorders.” PloS One 8 (5): e63773. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3656905/
  8. Malhotra, Samir, Girish Sawhney, and Promila Pandhi. 2004. “The Therapeutic Potential of Melatonin: A Review of the Science.” MedGenMed: Medscape General Medicine 6 (2): 46. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1395802/
  9. Geijlswijk, Ingeborg M. van, Hubert P. L. M. Korzilius, and Marcel G. Smits. 2010. “The Use of Exogenous Melatonin in Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder: A Meta-Analysis.” Sleep 33 (12): 1605–14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2982730/
  10. Costello, Rebecca B., Cynthia V. Lentino, Courtney C. Boyd, Meghan L. O’Connell, Cindy C. Crawford, Meredith L. Sprengel, and Patricia A. Deuster. 2014. “The Effectiveness of Melatonin for Promoting Healthy Sleep: A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Literature.” Nutrition Journal 13 (November): 106. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4273450
  11. Buscemi, N., B. Vandermeer, R. Pandya, N. Hooton, L. Tjosvold, L. Hartling, G. Baker, S. Vohra, and T. Klassen. 2004. Melatonin for Treatment of Sleep Disorders: Summary. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11941/
  12. “Melatonin: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning.” n.d. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-940/melatonin
  13. “Study Finds That Melatonin Content of Supplements Varies Widely.” 2017. February 14, 2017. https://aasm.org/study-finds-that-melatonin-content-of-supplements-varies-widely/
  14. Frank, Kurtis, Kamal Patel, Gregory Lopez, and Bill Willis. 2019. “Melatonin Research Analysis,” September. https://examine.com/supplements/melatonin/#how-to-take 

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