Insomnia and sleep disturbances are very common now, and many people are trying to turn to supplements to try to improve their ability to fall and stay asleep. Out of all the possible supplements, melatonin is by far the most popular. Unfortunately, there are some myths surrounding melatonin supplementation and its safety, many people supplement with it incorrectly, and many people might erroneously conclude that melatonin just doesn’t “work” for them.
In this article, I will address why you might want to start supplementing with melatonin, its safety with long term usage, and how to supplement the right way so that you get great sleep and have less of a chance of waking up groggy.
Benefits of supplementing with melatonin
The main benefit of supplementing with melatonin is that it can help your ability to fall asleep and get better quality sleep. It accomplishes this by helping to regulate your circadian rhythm – a 24-hour biological clock that helps to regulate processes related to sleep, wakefulness, and others such as hormonal levels and metabolism.(1)
Besides its benefits for sleep, melatonin can be beneficial for a wide array of disease conditions:
- Helps protect from various cancers (2, 3, 4)
- Beneficial for inflammatory bowel disease (5)
- Can help a bit with fat loss and muscle growth, especially in postmenopausal females (6)
- Helps with wound repair (7)
- Might be beneficial for mild cognitive impairment related to dementia (8, 9)
- Can help battle atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (10, 11)
- and more…
(It is important to note that the optimal doses for the conditions above are not the same as the optimal doses for sleep. This article will focus on how to use melatonin for better sleep.)
1. Myth: If you take melatonin, you will lower your own natural production of melatonin and will thus be dependent on it.
Reality: Not only have multiple studies shown that melatonin supplementation has no dependency issues,(12, 13, 14) but there is no withdrawal from stopping melatonin (in fact, there was still a residual benefit) and there is no decrease in the natural production of melatonin in long term human trials (13).
2. Myth: Melatonin can decrease testosterone levels.
Reality: While melatonin has been shown in vitro (in cell studies) to be a negative regulator of androgen synthesis, this has not been shown in happen in vivo with humans. In fact, long term studies with melatonin supplementation show zero effect on testosterone levels.(15, 16)
3. Myth: Taking higher doses of melatonin work better for sleep than lower doses. It is a sleeping pill, so the more I take the sleepier I should get, right?
Reality: Melatonin is not a sleeping pill. It is a hormone that our body uses to help entrain our circadian rhythm. Now, if you are doing things that mess up your circadian rhythm such as looking at bright LED or TV screens before bed (without a blue-blocking filter) or are going to bed at very different times throughout the week, then you may think that melatonin is a sleeping pill. In fact, taking low doses of melatonin is only going to be replacing what should be occurring naturally: a healthy rise in melatonin that starts around 2 hours before you go to bed (or when it gets dark outside). Multiple studies have shown that there is no dose-related benefit, meaning that higher doses do not work better than smaller doses.(17)
How to take melatonin for better sleep
We have already talked about how higher doses of melatonin do not necessarily work better than smaller doses. Personally, when I tried 20 mg of melatonin on two separate nights, I had a very hard time falling asleep that night. That never happens to me with lower doses such as 0.5 mg.
Studies have shown that 0.3 mg of melatonin is just as effective as 1 mg, and in fact, the lower dose of 0.3 mg had marginally better effects at reducing the time it takes for the individuals to fall asleep (sleep latency).(18)
When you look at the accumulation of the evidence, it is clear that there is a lack of benefit from increasing the dose of melatonin past 6mg a night. (17)
Thus, I recommend starting low with melatonin (0.3 – 0.5 mg) and increasing from there, if needed, to a max of around 6 mg.
Take this dose 1-2 hours before you plan on going to bed.
Only increase the dose if you feel you are not benefitting from the low dose. I will caution again though, that the low doses will likely work better than the high doses. Yet, everyone is different and there may be some who respond better to slightly higher doses.
There are many various brands of instant-release that will work fine. The one I recommend most is Life Extension 300mcg (0.3 mg) melatonin. It got excellent lab ratings from Consumer Lab, is a trusted brand, and has a low dose that is good for people to start with. As an Amazon Affiliate, if you buy it with the link or image above, you will be supporting this website with NO extra cost to you.
- Gnocchi D, Bruscalupi G. Circadian Rhythms and Hormonal Homeostasis: Pathophysiological Implications. Biology (Basel). 2017;6(1)
- Li Y, Li S, Zhou Y, et al. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of cancer. Oncotarget. 2017;8(24):39896-39921.
- Reiter RJ, Rosales-corral SA, Tan DX, et al. Melatonin, a Full Service Anti-Cancer Agent: Inhibition of Initiation, Progression and Metastasis. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(4)
- Bondy SC, Campbell A. Mechanisms Underlying Tumor Suppressive Properties of Melatonin. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(8)
- Mozaffari S, Abdollahi M. Melatonin, a promising supplement in inflammatory bowel disease: a comprehensive review of evidences. Curr Pharm Des. 2011 Dec;17(38):4372-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 22204435.
- Amstrup AK, Sikjaer T, Pedersen SB, Heickendorff L, Mosekilde L, Rejnmark L. Reduced fat mass and increased lean mass in response to 1 year of melatonin treatment in postmenopausal women: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2016 Mar;84(3):342-7. doi: 10.1111/cen.12942. Epub 2015 Oct 8. PubMed PMID: 26352863.
- Pugazhenthi K, Kapoor M, Clarkson AN, Hall I, Appleton I. Melatonin accelerates the process of wound repair in full-thickness incisional wounds. J Pineal Res. 2008 May;44(4):387-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079X.2007.00541.x. Epub 2008 Jan 19. PubMed PMID: 18205728.
- Jean-Louis G, von Gizycki H, Zizi F. Melatonin effects on sleep, mood, and cognition in elderly with mild cognitive impairment. J Pineal Res. 1998 Oct;25(3):177-83. PubMed PMID: 9745987.
- Furio AM, Brusco LI, Cardinali DP. Possible therapeutic value of melatonin in mild cognitive impairment: a retrospective study. J Pineal Res. 2007 Nov;43(4):404-9. PubMed PMID: 17910609.
- Sun H, Gusdon AM, Qu S. Effects of melatonin on cardiovascular diseases: progress in the past year. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2016;27(4):408-13.
- Jiki Z, Lecour S, Nduhirabandi F. Cardiovascular Benefits of Dietary Melatonin: A Myth or a Reality?. Front Physiol. 2018;9:528.
- Carr R, Wasdell MB, Hamilton D, Weiss MD, Freeman RD, Tai J, Rietveld WJ, Jan JE. Long-term effectiveness outcome of melatonin therapy in children with treatment-resistant circadian rhythm sleep disorders. J Pineal Res. 2007 Nov;43(4):351-9. PubMed PMID: 17910603.
- Lemoine P, Garfinkel D, Laudon M, Nir T, Zisapel N. Prolonged-release melatonin for insomnia – an open-label long-term study of efficacy, safety, and withdrawal. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2011;7:301-11. doi: 10.2147/TCRM.S23036. Epub 2011 Jul 26. PubMed PMID: 21845053; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3150476.
- Wade AG, Ford I, Crawford G, McConnachie A, Nir T, Laudon M, Zisapel N. Nightly treatment of primary insomnia with prolonged release melatonin for 6 months: a randomized placebo controlled trial on age and endogenous melatonin as predictors of efficacy and safety. BMC Med. 2010 Aug 16;8:51. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-8-51. PubMed PMID: 20712869; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2933606.
- Mero AA, Vähälummukka M, Hulmi JJ, Kallio P, von Wright A. Effects of resistance exercise session after oral ingestion of melatonin on physiological and performance responses of adult men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006 Apr;96(6):729-39. Epub 2006 Feb 28. PubMed PMID: 16506061.
- Rafael Luboshitzky, Michal Levi, Zila Shen-Orr, Zeev Blumenfeld, Paula Herer, Peretz Lavie, Long-term melatonin administration does not alter pituitary-gonadal hormone secretion in normal men, Human Reproduction, Volume 15, Issue 1, January 2000, Pages 60–65
- Pierce M, Linnebur SA, Pearson SM, Fixen DR. Optimal Melatonin Dose in Older Adults: A Clinical Review of the Literature. Sr Care Pharm. 2019 Jul 1;34(7):419-431. doi: 10.4140/TCP.n.2019.419.. Review. PubMed PMID: 31383052.
- Zhdanova IV, Wurtman RJ, Morabito C, Piotrovska VR, Lynch HJ. Effects of low oral doses of melatonin, given 2-4 hours before habitual bedtime, on sleep in normal young humans. Sleep. 1996 Jun;19(5):423-31. PubMed PMID: 8843534.