Young woman having a naturally calm mind and body sleep through sleep

How Much Melatonin Is Safe to Take?

Ah, sweet sleep! It soothes the mind, allows the body to heal and recharges our energy levels. We used to sleep like babies, able to nod off at bedtime soon after our heads hit the pillow. But now drifting into dreamland isn’t always as easy as we’d like. (Or, we fall asleep easily enough but find ourselves wide awake at 2 in the morning.)

If counting sheep isn’t working, melatonin supplements may be able to help—with low risk of side effects.

Your body naturally produces the hormone melatonin when it gets dark, and bright light (such as the morning sun) tells your body to stop producing it. This is why you’ve heard the advice about powering down your digital devices an hour before bedtime—all that bright blue light is disruptive to melatonin levels and normal sleep patterns.

Melatonin naturally calms your body down and helps you feel drowsy, which helps you fall asleep once melatonin increases to sufficient levels in your body. It has strong antioxidant properties, as well, and has been shown to support immune health and brain function and to help maintain healthy blood pressure.

Who should take melatonin?

Although we produce this “sleep hormone” naturally, adding melatonin through a dietary supplement works best in the short term. This means taking a melatonin supplement for occasional sleeplessness. Melatonin helps to reset our natural circadian rhythm, which can be thrown off by temporary issues like overnight or rotating shift-work or travel-induced jet lag.

If you’re a night owl, but need to be awake early, melatonin supplementation (also called exogenous melatonin) is a good choice to help you feel tired earlier and get the sleep you need. If you’ve returned from traveling and are feeling some jet lag from the time zone change, melatonin can help you regain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

Melatonin isn’t a substitute for good sleep habits. So if you continually struggle with sleep night after night, lifestyle changes might be needed to restore your circadian rhythm. (Putting down that afternoon cup of coffee or going to the gym earlier in the day might also help.)

But for occasional sleeplessness, take melatonin at night, about 30-60 minutes before bedtime, to help calm your mind and body for sleep. Incorporate other sleep-promoting habits, such as soft music or a warm cup of chamomile tea, for maximum effect.

And remember, melatonin isn't only a healthy sleep aid, thanks to its antioxidant activity and support for already-healthy blood pressure. It also encourages a healthy immune system response, protects cognitive function as we age and supports healthy cellular DNA.

Can melatonin be taken daily?

Unlike other sleep aids, melatonin is considered safe with low risk of side effects. It has been studied extensively through controlled trials for short-term use, even at high doses. The side effects of melatonin supplements that have been observed in clinical trials are minimal—and the likelihood of those side effects increases with the melatonin dosage.

With all melatonin use, make sure you take it before you get into bed for a good night of rest. Taking it in the middle of the night when you wake at 3 AM and have trouble falling back asleep is not recommended—it could cause next-day sleepiness.

It’s important to note that exogenous melatonin affects everyone differently. This is why some people say it doesn’t work for them, or they fall asleep faster but wake more easily in the night. You may know someone who happily drifts off into dreams after taking a 3 mg gummy, and another who says they need 10 mg to help them sleep. Some people are more “sensitive” to melatonin, so what works for them may not work for someone with similar characteristics.

Because controlled trials on long-term use are rare, you should avoid taking melatonin supplements daily for a long time. Instead, take them in the short-term—in combination with good sleep habits—to help normalize your circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep patterns.

5 Tips for Better Sleep

There’s nothing like the frustration of lying in bed, knowing we need to sleep but unable to slip into slumber. Practicing healthy sleep habits can go a long way toward calming your body and mind enough to fall asleep. These 5 tips can help:

1. Turn it off.

We know you don’t want to, but say bye-bye to your digital devices at least an hour before bedtime. Not only will this protect you from those sleep-disrupting blue lights, but it will also shut down the stimulation of social media, which might keep your mind racing far past bedtime.

2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Those late-afternoon or evening cups of coffee (or even soda) are sending stimulants into your bloodstream—not ideal for powering down at the end of a long day. Alcohol is the opposite, a depressant that messes with melatonin production. So you might feel like “wine-ing” down at the end of the day, but if you want a full night of sleep—without a 3 AM wakeup call—just say no.

3. Close the kitchen early.

Eating too close to bedtime puts your body to work digesting all those nutrients and calories that you just so-helpfully shoveled into your system. Not only will this prevent your body from preparing for sleep, but your digestive system might not thank you for the late-night load.

4. Mellow out with music.

Lullabies are not just for babies. Studies find music is sleep-inducing for adults as well, and many report better sleep quality after listening to music before bed.

5. Lower the lights.

Digital blue light isn’t the only sleep-buster. Bright lights in general can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle because they shut down your internal melatonin production. Lower your lights as you wind down to signal to your body that it is time to sleep.

Does melatonin dosage matter?

As with most things, yes, how much melatonin you take matters. Too low a dosage may be ineffective, while too much melatonin may cause side effects. It is best to start with the lowest dosage, with increases over time until you find the melatonin dosage that is right for you.

It's important to keep in mind that the body's melatonin production naturally declines over time, which is one reason why sleep aids are so popular. Melatonin increases might be needed to maintain healthy sleep-wake cycles as you age.

Is melatonin dosage based on weight?

Whether weight matters depends on your melatonin administration. A science-backed observation study found that immediate-release melatonin can be affected by BMI, thanks to melatonin diffusion into fat mass and other factors.

That said, melatonin dosage is mostly affected by age, thanks to the naturally-occurring decrease in this hormone.

How much melatonin is safe to take per night for adults?

Typical melatonin treatments in placebo-controlled trials range from 0.1 mg to 10 mg dosages, and those melatonin levels are considered safe. Remember to start at a low dosage, with gradual melatonin increases until you get to the milligram level that is right for you.

Melatonin supplements generally range in milligrams from less than 1 to 10, and they come in liquid, lozenge and gummy form, as well as capsules and tablets. There are also differences in melatonin administration, with immediate- and prolonged-release formulas. These are safe to take at night, but should not be used indefinitely. Use exogenous melatonin to help jumpstart a regular and restful sleep-wake cycle, not for an extended period.

As with any supplement, you should talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking this hormone—and if you continue to have sleep issues. They might be able to help you identify sleep habits that need changing.

Is melatonin safe for kids?

As with adults, the use of melatonin in children should first be discussed with a doctor or healthcare provider, and it should not be taken for long-term use. Supplements for children generally have lower melatonin levels and should be used occasionally for short-term help in resetting a natural sleep-wake cycle.

Immediate- vs. extended-release melatonin

As the names suggest, these forms of melatonin supplementation help you fall immediately asleep or help you stay asleep. A recent meta-analysis of 23 clinical trials found that both immediate-release and prolonged-release melatonin had a significant effect on sleep quality.

With immediate-release melatonin, a placebo-controlled trial found those randomized to receive melatonin fell asleep 34 minutes earlier, on average. Clinical trials with controlled-release melatonin treatments found subjects reported improved quality of sleep and morning alertness.

So which form is better depends on your own sleep patterns. If you want to fall asleep faster, try instant release melatonin. If you want help to stay asleep, slow-release is the better choice. Or choose a melatonin treatment with both forms for even more benefits.

Which melatonin is most effective?

Melatonin use is subjective, and which form is better will vary from person to person. But a meta-analysis of controlled trials shows many people can benefit from this dietary supplement.

Some blends, such as Melatonin IR/XR, combine instant and time-release forms to help you get to sleep quickly and then stay asleep for up to seven hours. Other sleep aids deliver melatonin in gummies or liquid form to encourage healthy rest. Some supplements combine melatonin with other sleep-promoting compounds, such as ashwagandha, citrus peel and milk peptides, to help you rest well.

Whether you choose immediate or controlled support, you can rest easy knowing melatonin is helping fight oxidative stress and support already-healthy blood pressure while you get the sleep you need.

References

By: Jennifer Jhon, Health & Wellness Writer

Jennifer Jhon graduated from Auburn University with a degree in journalism and communications. She established her career as an editor, designer and writer at several newspapers and magazines. She has been writing about wellness, health and nutrition for 10 years.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD