Considering Melatonin for Sleep? Get the Facts First.

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Considering Melatonin for Sleep? Get the Facts First.

For more than 40% of Canadians, getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge[1], especially during our “new normal,” so it’s no wonder many of us are looking for solutions. One of these solutions may be melatonin supplements. 

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally secreted by the pineal gland in our brain to help regulate our sleep/wake cycles. Melatonin tells us it’s time to fall asleep by lowering our core body temperature. It works in tandem with our circadian rhythms to let us know when we should sleep and when we should be awake.

How can melatonin help?

For people suffering from jet lag or shift work, melatonin can help increase total sleep time and sleep quality [2, 3, 4, 5]. And for those people who experience delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) [6], melatonin can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. What is the correct melatonin dosage?

Melatonin is sold over the counter in a variety of doses, ranging from 1–10 mg. Begin with a low dose, such as 1–3 mg, and increase gradually until you find the dose right for you.

Is there such a thing as a melatonin overdose?

Although it’s very common for people to take higher doses of melatonin, thinking more is better, it can lead to some unwanted melatonin side effects. Taking too much at once can reduce the quality of your sleep by causing headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, or morning grogginess. Too much melatonin may also increase dream activity or even nightmares. [7,8]  

What is the best form of melatonin?

Melatonin can be found in tablets, liquid, sublingual, and dual-release forms. Dual-release forms can be very helpful for people who need help with falling asleep and staying asleep. The first layer is released when first taken to help you fall asleep, and the second layer is released a few hours later while you are sleeping. There is no ideal form of melatonin. The best form is the one that works the best for you.

When should I take melatonin?

Take once per day, at or before bedtime. The general recommendation is 30–90 minutes before bedtime. If taking for jet lag, continue to take once per day, 30–90 minutes before bedtime until you have adapted to your new time zone.[2, 3, 4,5] 

Do not drive or use machinery for 5 hours after taking melatonin. 

Is melatonin safe?

Melatonin is generally safe when taken as directed on the label; however, as with any natural health product, it may not be right for everyone.  

Consult a health care practitioner prior to use if you have a hormonal disorder, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, migraines, depression and/or hypertension, or if you are taking blood pressure or sedative/hypnotic medications.  

Do not drive or use machinery for 5 hours after taking melatonin. If insomnia symptoms persist continuously for more than 4 weeks, consult a physician.  

Do not use if you are taking immunosuppressive drugs and/or if pregnant or breastfeeding.  

Does melatonin have any side effects?

Melatonin is generally well tolerated. However some people may experience headache, confusion, or nausea, in which case, we recommend to stop using melatonin and consult a physician for advice on how to support better sleep patterns.

Does melatonin have any interactions?

Avoid taking melatonin with alcohol or products that cause drowsiness.

How long can I take melatonin?

Unless you are taking melatonin for jet lag, melatonin supplements are meant for short-term use. For use beyond 4 weeks, consult your physician if you are still having difficulty sleeping. 

Can you take melatonin if pregnant or breastfeeding?

No, melatonin is not for use when you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Is there anything else I can do to improve my sleep?

  • Establish a regular sleeping routine.
  • Do relaxing activities before bed. Read a book, have a warm bath, or meditate.
  • Reserve your bedroom for intimacy and sleep. Don’t watch TV, read, or do computer work in your bedroom.
  • Make your bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, pop, chocolate) and smoking within six hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. It may help you fall asleep, but drinking alcohol causes nighttime waking and reduces sleep quality.
  • Exercise regularly, early in the day.
Joyce Johnson, ND (Inactive)

Joyce Johnson, ND (Inactive)

Naturopathic Doctor, natural health and lifestyle expert with 18 years of experience in her field.

References :
  1. Morin CM et al. Prevalence of insomnia and its treatment in Canada. Can J Psychiatry. 2011 Sep;56(9):540-8.

2. Brown GM, Pandi-Perumal SR, Trakht I, et al. Melatonin and its relevance to jet lag. Travel Med Infect Dis. 2009; 7:69-81.

3. Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001520. (Assessed as up-to-date 2008 February 12). [Consulted 2018 June 18]. Available from: Next link will take you to another Web site

4. Petrie K, Dawson AG, Thompson L, et al. A double-blind trial of melatonin as a treatment for jet lag in international cabin crew. Biol Psychiatry. 1993; 33(7):526-30.

5. Petrie K, Conaglen JV, Thompson L, et al. Effect of melatonin on jet lag after long haul flights. British Med J. 1989; 298(6675):705-7.

Kayumov L, Brown G, Jindal R, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of the effect of exogenous melatonin on delayed sleep phase syndrome. Psychosomatic Med. 2001; 63(1):40-8.

6. Lysenko L, Bhat S. Melatonin-Responsive Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations. J Clin Sleep Med. 2018; 14(4): 687-691.

7. Maurizi CP. The Function of Dreams (REM Sleep): Roles for the Hippocampus, Melatonin, Monoamines, and Vasotocin. Med Hypotheses. 1987; 23(4):433-40.

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