How melatonin can bring temporary relief to restless nights

Many people turn to melatonin when they have a disrupted regular sleep cycle. According to a recent study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), more than 3 million Americans take melatonin on a regular basis.

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps regulate other hormones and maintain the body’s natural sleep cycle. When it is dark, the body produces more melatonin. When it is light outside, the body produces less.

Research shows melatonin supplements, usually taken 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, may be effective in helping regulate the body’s internal clock. Studies have also shown melatonin helps reset the body’s internal clock when experiencing jet lag and several other disorders such as:

  • Delayed sleep phase disorder: Adults and teens who have trouble falling asleep before 2 am.
  • Shift work disorder: People who work the night, overnight or swing shifts.
  • Insomnia: A general term for people who have trouble falling or staying asleep.
  • Non-24 circadian rhythm disorder: This condition affects people who are blind and have a tough time regulating their sleep cycle.

Before taking melatonin or any supplement, contact your primary care physician. USDHHS research shows melatonin appears to be safe for short-term use, but there is a lack of long-term use studies. Serious side effects of melatonin are uncommon, but include drowsiness, headache, dizziness or nausea.

Melatonin may also interact with other prescription medications. In some studies, it decreased the effectiveness of certain antidepressant medications. Birth control pills may also increase the amount of melatonin the body naturally produces, so taking the supplement could increase levels above a healthy range.

RECOMMENDED DOSAGE

Research from the University of Maryland Medical Center shows melatonin supplements react differently between patients. They suggest starting with a low dose, 0.5 to 5mg, close to the level the body naturally produces at night, 0.3mg. Elevated levels of melatonin may cause anxiety and irritability in some people. For children, contact your pediatrician for proper dosing and usage.

Adults

For delayed sleep phase disorder: 0.3 to 5mg before bedtime

For insomnia: 0.3 to 5mg before bedtime

For shift work disorder: 1.8 to 10mg after the shift ends

Jet lag: 0.1 to 8mg on the day of travel, close to targeted bedtime at the destination, then daily for several days at 0.3 to 5mg before bedtime

Non-24 circadian rhythm disorder: 0.3 to 3mg before bedtime