How Does Melatonin Work

How Does Melatonin Work

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Tossing and turning all night is a terrible thing. Sleep is essential to start your day on the right foot and not getting a proper night's rest leaves you lethargic and groggy all day long. Luckily, there's a special supplement you can take to give your body the best night's rest, every night. It is time for you to meet your bedside buddy, melatonin.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin bottle with alarm clock and eye patch

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that comes from a gland in your brain smaller than a pea, called the pineal gland. This powerful gland helps regulate your body's internal clock and signals when it's time to wind down for the night and when to get up in the morning.

As you sleep, your body rests and recharges your vital organs and systems, and also secretes melatonin to keep you asleep. Your melatonin levels fluctuate depending on the time of day. During evening hours and when the sun starts to set your body produces more, and your levels drop when the sun comes up and you're ready to seize the day.

Who should take melatonin?

Older couple sleeping in bed

OK, so you've meditated, counted sheep, taken a relaxing bath and are sleeping in a pitch-black room with an eye mask and ear plugs in. And yet you still find yourself feeling restless throughout the night. This may mean melatonin is right for you.

Melatonin is a great sleep support supplement because it helps regulate your body's internal clock, which gets you drifting off to dream land in no time flat. Make sure you speak with your doctor before starting a melatonin regimen.

Additionally, you can connect with one of our free Wellness Specialists over the phone or by chat to learn more about the benefits of melatonin and which supplement is right for you.

Who should not take melatonin?

Pregnant woman sleeping with support pillow

As with any supplement, do not incorporate melatonin into your nighttime routine if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, in a state of emotional distress or have a life altering illness, without first speaking to your doctor. Your doctor should be consulted before starting melatonin, no matter what your age.

How does melatonin work?

Alarm clock with blue background

You may dance to the beat of your own drum, but that has nothing to do with your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your natural cycle of physical and mental changes your body goes through throughout the day. Your rhythm can be thrown out of whack when your body receives too much light at night, or from jet lag or shift work.

This is why it is important to avoid blue light and other light emitting electronics in the evening—it helps to keep your internal clock properly regulated.

When should I take melatonin?

Woman getting ready for bed

Take melatonin 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime, but make sure you are committed to going to sleep for the night. Melatonin promotes a restful night's sleep, so first and foremost you should incorporate it into your regular nighttime routine. Get your body on a sleep schedule so your head hits the pillow night after night at the same time, and make sure that you are getting at least 8 hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep.

How much melatonin should I take?

Speaking with a doctor on the computer

Always speak with a doctor before starting a melatonin regimen as everybody has unique health needs. Make sure that you read the label properly and thoroughly and do not take more than the recommended dosage.

Your doctor will probably have you start with a lower dosage and gradually build up over time, if needed. But again, your dosage may be low and that's ok if that's all you need.

What throws my sleep cycle off?

Woman looking through refrigerator at night

Jet lag, blue light, late night vigorous exercise and even food can throw a wrench into your slumber party. When it comes to jet lag and you find yourself traveling through time zones, your body and brain need to sync up when you arrive at your destination. Your physical body might have traveled to the tropical islands of Thailand, but your brain is still on west coast, California time. In cases like these, melatonin is the perfect travel companion to get your sleep schedule back on track.

Avoid blue light before bed. This means TV time (sorry, late-night reality shows) and cell phone scrolling (not sorry, social media)! This helps to regulate your natural melatonin levels and signal your brain that lights are out and it's time to hit the hay.

Additionally, your late-night cravings and refrigerator runs could be hindering your sleeping habits. By the time night rolls around, your systems are starting to wind down for the night. By introducing food, your body and brain are forced to "restart" in order to create the energy needed to digest your delectable dish.

What else should I do besides take melatonin?

Preparing small meals for the day ahead

Melatonin is a stepping stone towards regular and restful sleep, but great slumber doesn't stop there. Throughout the day, make sure that you are eating a well-balanced, Mediterranean diet, packed with fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, powerful protein and healthy fats. And eat in smaller portions throughout the day. It'll promote satiety, so you're not scouring the fridge late at night for a treat.

Additionally, when it comes to diet, avoid foods with artificial sugars or sweeteners. They can potentially throw your sleep patterns out of whack. And for coffee and tea, stick to a cup of decaf for your afternoon fix.

Staying in shape is important, but engaging in vigorous aerobic activity within a few hours before shut eye may impact your sleep quality. Your body needs to be in a state of complete relaxation: exercise before bed elevates your heart rate levels. If you feel the need to exercise before bed, simple stretches are best and may even help your body relax.

How often should I take melatonin?

Flipping through calendar pages

Taking a melatonin supplement is supposed to help jumpstart your regular and restful sleep cycle and is not something you should take every night indefinitely. Once you speak with your doctor about your right milligram dosage, figure out a game plan for how long to take melatonin and when to try weaning this from your nighttime regimen.

If you start sleeping more soundly after a couple weeks, you may want to ease off and let your body and pineal gland go from here.