Melatonin dosages vary widely
Melatonin is a hormone that our brain makes to help us get to sleep.
Before we messed up our natural sleep cycles with artificial lights, 24/7 exposure to TVs, computers and smart phones, and world-wide jet travel, darkness would signal our brains to release melatonin and put us to sleep. (That’s why you might feel sleepy in a dark theater when watching a movie or concert.)
Now many people take melatonin supplements in an attempt to assist their confused brains and get a decent night’s sleep.
But melatonin supplements come in such a wide range of dosages—from less than 1 mg to more than 10 mg—how do you know what’s the right amount?
I’ve always been interested in how melatonin works, although I’ve never used it myself. My son was asking about it the other day, so I thought I would do a little research into how effective it is, and what the dosing guidelines are. (And it’s National Sleep Awareness Week, so the timing seemed right!)
In short, like any medication, it’s best to start with the lowest effective dose. For melatonin, that’s probably between 0.5 mg and 3 mg, taken about 45 minutes before bedtime.
How effective is melatonin?
Do melatonin supplements really help you fall asleep or, in the case of jet lag, get back on a normal sleep schedule?
Most studies looking at melatonin and insomnia are small and show only modest benefits. The best evidence for using melatonin is in treating jet lag, sleep problems related to shift work, or insomnia in the elderly.
Dosage guidelines are difficult to find because no one really knows what’s best. Melatonin is absorbed and excreted at different rates for different people. Several medications, foods, and health conditions can also affect melatonin levels.
Still, anyone living with insomnia who doesn’t want to resort to sleeping pills may want to try melatonin on the chance it will work for them.
How safe is melatonin?
Side effects are typically few, at least when it’s used for a short period of time. Because it can induce sleepiness, don’t take it just before driving a car or operating heavy machinery!
Always read the safety information on any over-the-counter product.
Melatonin is classified as a supplement rather than a drug, so it doesn’t have the same FDA oversight as, for example, Advil or Tylenol.
Related post: The Quack Miranda Warning
Consult with a doctor before using melatonin if:
- you have any chronic health condition, such as diabetes or asthma
- you are pregnant
- you want to take it for more than a few weeks
- you are considering giving it to a child
Related post: Melatonin—Not a sleeping pill for children
So which supplement is best?
From what I’ve read, I would start with a melatonin dosage of either 0.5 mg or 1 mg.
If after a few days I did not notice any difference in my sleep, I would try 3 mg and then—maybe—5 mg. A 10 mg dose is pretty big, and would be outside my comfort zone. At least without a doctor’s supervision.
(Btw, the reason I’ve never tried melatonin is that my sleep problems are caused by Restless Leg Syndrome, and melatonin can make this worse.)
Melatonin supplements also come in a variety of forms: tablets, capsules, gummies, chewables, liquid, powder, or dissolving lozenges.
Most are fast acting, or immediate-release, meaning you get the whole dose at once and it works quickly.
A few are delayed or extended-release. In theory, these may help you stay asleep longer.
After you’ve decided on a dosage, choose the type of product you like best. Look for a USP-Verified mark on the label. As I mentioned earlier, supplements don’t have the same quality enforcement as other drugs; a USP-Verified product has a better chance of containing the supplement you want at the dose you want, and without any other harmful additives.
Related post: What’s in your supplement?
If you don’t notice improvement in your sleep within a couple of weeks, melatonin probably isn’t going to work for you. Save your money and try something else.
For more in-depth information on melatonin and links to studies, check out the National Institutes of Health Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
I also love the independent testing site, Consumer Lab, which has loads of information available on all kinds of supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies for a small yearly subscription.
Melatonin supplements approved by Consumer Lab based on quality & cost: