Will Melatonin Help You Sleep?

If you're tossing, turning, and looking for alternative ways to get to sleep, melatonin supplements might help. But then again, they might not. Here's why.

You produce your own melatonin, a hormone that's made in the brain and works with your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, to help you know when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake up. Your blood levels of melatonin rise at night, or whenever you find yourself in darkness, and drop when the sun comes up, or whenever you are exposed to light.

Knowing the relationship between  natural melatonin and circadian rhythms, many people with insomnia, jet lag or other disruptive sleep issues try melatonin supplements as a sleep aid, with varying degrees of success. Although health experts do not know for sure exactly how supplemental melatonin affects the sleep cycle, the various types of melatonin sold by reputable supplement manufacturers in health food stores, pharmacies and online are generally considered safe, at least for short-term use of up to several weeks. Some of the side effects reported by people who have taken melatonin supplements include headaches, dizziness, irritability and drowsiness the following day

Different formulations of melatonin, in varying doses, have been used in clinical studies to try to determine what effect, if any, the supplemental hormone has on individual sleep rhythms and sleep issues related to various conditions, such as jet lag, aging and insomnia that is secondary to other medical conditions. Mostly conflicting results have been reported. No studies have shown that people with naturally low levels of melatonin in their blood get any more benefit from supplements than people with normal levels of melatonin. In other words, many people who have naturally low blood levels of melatonin are able to enjoy a normal night's sleep. Yet, a study performed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers found that when older men and women who suffer from varying degrees of insomnia are given melatonin supplements, their blood levels of melatonin rise and their sleep is improved.

Melatonin supplements are usually made from a synthetic version of the hormone, and are available as pills and capsules to be swallowed, and in tablet and liquid dropper form to be dissolved in your mouth, either under your tongue or through your cheek. Although sold in much higher doses, the research team at MIT found that 0.3 mg was an optimal dose for improving sleep without commonly noted clinical side effects, such lowered body temperature  and high blood levels of melatonin persisting into the next day.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, much more research is needed to clarify which forms of supplemental melatonin work for which types of sleeping disorders, and at what doses. In other words, it's going to be a while before any official recommendations can be made. Until then, speak to your doctor about your sleep problems and find out if melatonin can help you.



Zhdanova, I. et al. "Melatonin Treatment for Age-Related Insomnia." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 86(10:4727-4730. 2001 Web. 4 Feb 2011

U.S. Department of Health and Huma Services: Melatonin for Treatment of Sleep Disorders