How to Use Melatonin the Right Way

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How long does it take you to sleep once you get into bed? If you toss and turn for hours on end, you probably have insomnia or another sleep disturbance. Whatever it is, you could have a melatonin issue.

But what is melatonin, and how does it affect your sleep?

What is melatonin?

There are two types of melatonin. Natural melatonin synthesized in the body and melatonin supplements that are normally taken orally. Both types of melatonin help you to sleep.

Natural melatonin is a hormone produced in the body by the pineal gland located within the brain. The main function of melatonin is to regulate the circadian or sleep-wake cycle.

To do this, the pineal gland produces high amounts of melatonin during the night and very low amounts during the day.

Synthesis of melatonin increases when the brain receives signals through the optic nerve that darkness is setting in. the high production continues throughout the night and slows down at dawn as darkness fades away as the sun rises.

Effects of melatonin in the body

Besides sleep and the regulation of the circadian cycle, melatonin has other roles in the body. It has antioxidant effects, plays a part in controlling cortisol levels, as well as regulating body temperature, blood pressure, immune and sexual functions. (1)

It follows that if the body produces low amounts of melatonin, sleep, the circadian cycle and these other functions may be affected.

Why would the body produce inadequate melatonin?

The right amount of melatonin is critical to getting adequate and restful sleep. However, this does not always happen, which may lead to sleep disorders.

But what can cause the body to produce low levels of melatonin?

Excessive exposure to light, jetlag, working in shifts, and old age are the main reasons why the body may fail to produce adequate melatonin.

Excessive exposure to light

This may happen if you spend a lot of time in bright light at night. This confuses your body so that the optic nerve does not signify to the brain that daylight is gone.

The absence of such signals means that the brain does not signal for the pineal gland to start producing large amounts of melatonin.


If you travel eastwards or westwards through several time zones, your body’s sleep-wake cycle gets disoriented. This means that the brain does not signal for the pineal gland to increase production of melatonin at the appropriate time.

Working in shifts

Similar to exposure to excessive light at night, working in shifts disorientates the body. This happens because working at night for some days and during the day on other days, disrupts your circadian cycle.

As a result, the pineal gland does not produce the appropriate amounts of melatonin when you need it.

Old age

Melatonin production changes with age. It is highest in newborns and young babies and lowest in old age.

How to improve melatonin levels

Whatever its cause; inadequate melatonin levels can lead to poor sleep patterns including temporary sleep disruption and insomnia. Many people faced with these problems take sleeping pills.

Unfortunately, sleeping pills are riddled with many adverse effects including increased risk of some cancers (2). Sleeping pills are also associated with increased insulin resistance, diabetes, amnesia, depression, hallucinations, food cravings and weight gain.

They are, therefore, not the best solution for sleep issues due to low melatonin.

This is where melatonin supplements come in. Melatonin supplements are types of dietary supplements that are normally taken orally to increase melatonin level.

But besides considering melatonin supplements, you may need to try some lifestyle and diet changes.

Lifestyle and diet changes to improve melatonin levels

Making appropriate lifestyle changes can play a major part in addressing your sleep problems. You can do this by working during the day, spending more time in sunlight and blocking off light from your bedroom at night.

You can also try to go bed at a similar time every night. These changes may help your body to reestablish a normal sleep-wake cycle.

You can also improve your melatonin levels by supplementing with some foods. Recent studies on the relationship between diet and melatonin show that some types of food can increase melatonin levels in the body.

According to the study, consuming tart cherry juice for instance, helps to improve sleep quality. Other foods that can increase melatonin in the body include grape seeds, walnuts, bell peppers and tomatoes.

You may get similar results by consuming foods that are rich in an amino acid called tryptophan.

Melatonin supplements to increase melatonin levels

But lifestyle and diet changes do not always work. It might also be impractical to make the necessary changes.

Besides, your problem could be the result of an issue like advanced age which cannot be changed. In such cases, melatonin supplements are your best choice.

As mentioned earlier, melatonin supplements are synthetic products that are similar to the natural melatonin. They also work in similar ways.

What is more, you can buy melatonin supplements online or from drugstores without a prescription. In addition, you can choose between several forms of the supplements including tablet, capsule, slow release and liquid.

Many studies have found that melatonin supplements are sleep aids that work by increasing melatonin levels in the bloodstream. This brings about sleepiness and lowers blood pressure and body temperature.

Conditions treated with melatonin supplements

Melatonin supplements are used to help increase melatonin levels in the body. And considering that high levels of melatonin are required during sleep, the supplement is taken a short while before going to bed.

In addition to the primary use as a sleep aid, melatonin supplements are also used for other conditions including:

  • Jetlag

  • Thermal injury

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Depression

  • Migraine headaches

  • Alzheimer's disease

How much melatonin should you take?

Depending on your personal choice or the advice of your doctor, you buy melatonin pills, chewable gum, capsules, sublingual or liquid. The amount or concentration of melatonin in the supplements is indicated on the labels in milligrams (mg).

Concerning dosage, there are no conclusive studies to suggest the optimum dose. For this reason, there is a wide disparity in the recommended dosage. However, in most cases, the suggested dosage ranges from 0.25mg to 5 mg.

According to one study, 0.3 mg of melatonin is adequate to help you go to sleep. (3) Other studies indicate that doses of 0.5mg to 5mg have a similar effect.

However, according to some researchers, the higher dose helps a patient to fall asleep faster and to remain asleep for a little longer.

Additionally, many studies on the use of melatonin as a sleep aid recommend that a patient's starting dose should be between 0.25mg and 0.5mg daily. This can then be increased as required by the individual user.

Who should not take melatonin

While no concrete findings have been made about the effects of melatonin, it is feared that it may have adverse effects on a growing fetus or a breastfeeding baby.

For this reason, pregnant and nursing women should avoid melatonin or use it only on the advice of a doctor. (4) Melatonin supplements should also not be given to young children.

You should also avoid melatonin in case you have a serious medical condition or you are on medication. You should also consult a doctor before taking melatonin in case of the following:

  • You are a diabetic

  • You have high blood pressure

  • Have cancer

  • Experience seizures

  • Have depression

  • Suffer from an autoimmune condition

  • Are on sedative medication

  • Are on other medications including nifedipine, fluvoxamine and immunosuppressants.

Side effects of melatonin

Studies conducted on melatonin have not made any conclusive findings about any serious side effects. In any case, short-term use of melatonin seems to be generally safe.

However, many doctors recommend caution, especially in children and expectant mothers.

Some users have reported getting the following side effects after taking melatonin:

  • Insomnia

  • Drowsiness

  • Headache

  • Gastrointestinal problems

Other less common side effects include:

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Daytime sleepiness

  • Mild depression

  • Low blood pressure

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

Also, note that melatonin takes effect about 30 minutes after taking it. Its effects can remain for one hour. For these reasons, you should not drive for at least one hour after taking melatonin.

How to choose the best melatonin supplements

Choosing a brand containing the right amount of melatonin can be a tricky affair. This is because there are no set standards for the production of melatonin or other dietary supplements.

In other words, the products on the market are not regulated. As a result, you might buy a product whose label indicates that each pill contains 1 mg of melatonin, while in fact, it contains less or more.

Studies have found that most melatonin supplements contain more or less melatonin than the amount indicated on the labels.

According to one study, 71% of the supplements on the market have a 10% difference from the amount of melatonin indicated on their labels. (5)

The same study found that some of the supplements contain 83% less, while some have up to 478% more melatonin than what is declared on the labels.

This means that many people who use melatonin supplements may be taking more or less the quantity of the active ingredient than they think. For this reason, you should be extra careful when buying melatonin online or from a drugstore.

What to look for in melatonin supplements

It is important that before choosing a melatonin supplement, you ensure that the manufacturer is reliable.  

This way, you will know that you are getting a product with the recommended concentration of melatonin.

Remember that as with other dietary supplements, melatonin supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Hence, it is up to you to exercise due diligence.

Still, there is a way to know whether or not the information on the label is reliable.  

The seal of either of the following organizations on a product, confirms that you are getting the ingredients as listed on the label: NSF International or Pharmacopeia Convention.

Recommended melatonin products

Having studied the various melatonin products on the market, we can confidently recommend the following select products.

These are some of the best melatonin supplements that you can buy. Hygienic conditions and proper calibration are used to ensure that what you read on the label is what you get in the products inside. This is not just melatonin but is a sleep supplement we recommend that contains melatonin. This is straight melatonin we recommend. Many practitioners recommend that you start with a low dose and work up as you may require. If you are just starting to use melatonin, this is a good product to use. It contains just 0.5mg melatonin. If you are looking for a slow release melatonin supplement, this is what we recommend.


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