The Health Benefits of Melatonin

A popular sleep aid, melatonin helps reset circadian rhythms and more

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is often taken in a pill form as an over-the-counter supplement to aid sleep.

Melatonin is frequently taken to alleviate difficulty falling or staying asleep, characteristic symptoms of insomnia, and there is a strong body of evidence supporting its use as a sleep aid in several populations including children and the elderly.

It is believed to be safe and effective for short-term use with fewer side effects than commonly prescribed sleeping pills.

When to Take Melatonin
Illustration by Joshua Seong. © Verywell, 2018. 

Health Benefits

Hundreds of studies have suggested that melatonin is a safe and effective short-term sleep aid that can be helpful in a wide population, including children, adults, people with chronic health conditions, and the elderly. Here are some findings for sleep and other potential health benefits of the supplement.

Sleep

Studies suggest that melatonin can help those with insomnia fall asleep faster and may improve sleep efficacy—the ratio of total time asleep compared to time spent in bed in otherwise healthy people. Most of the benefits shown are modest and more high quality studies with large sample sizes are needed.

A 2019 review of 18 small studies that looked at short-term use (between one and 13 weeks) of melatonin in children concluded that, overall, it helped improve both the time to fall asleep and total sleep. The dosage and effects of melatonin on behavior and daytime functioning, however, weren’t clear because the studies varied.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration 

Melatonin may reduce the risk of eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), or help treat them.

In a small study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 100 patients with AMD were given 3 milligrams (mg) of melatonin daily for six to 24 months. Researchers found melatonin helped protect retinas from further damage in the majority of subjects.

According to the study authors, in addition to being a powerful antioxidant, melatonin may help control eye pigmentation and regulate the amount of light reaching the photoreceptors, protecting eyes from damage.  

Autism

According to research, many people with autism do not produce enough melatonin, resulting in sleep disturbances.

A 2014 review of several studies reported that melatonin not only improves sleep onset, quality, and duration, it is also associated with better daytime behaviors. The authors note, however, that more research is needed to determine the ideal dosage and timing of the sleep aid.

Jet Lag

Jet lag is caused by rapid travel across several time zones, resulting in disturbed sleep, daytime fatigue, and a feeling of overall discomfort. Several studies have found melatonin to be effective in combating the symptoms of jet lag.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine supports using melatonin to reduce jet lag symptoms and improve sleep after traveling across more than one time zone.

Tinnitus

For people who suffer from tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears, melatonin may bring some relief.

In a small study published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, 61 patients with tinnitus who were given 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime reported a reduction in inner ear noise and improved quality of sleep after 30 days.

However, this was a small study and more research is needed.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects of melatonin are uncommon but can include drowsiness, headache, dizziness, or nausea. In children, possible side effects may also include agitation or increased bedwetting or urination before bed.

It may cause morning hangover effects if the optimal dose is exceeded, but as it wears off, these symptoms should relent. Melatonin may, however, stay active longer in older adults and lead to more daytime drowsiness.

Melatonin appears to be safe when used short-term, but the lack of long-term studies means it's not known whether it is safe for extended use. There may also be a risk of allergic reactions.

There are no reports of a fatal overdose of melatonin alone.

Interactions and Warnings

Consult your doctor before taking melatonin, especially if you take any medications since melatonin may slow the processing of certain drugs by the liver.

Potential interactions with medications include:

  • Blood thinners: It may increase the risk of bleeding in those taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications or supplements.
  • Anticonvulsants: It may lessen the effectiveness of medications for epilepsy that help prevent seizures.
  • Central nervous system depressants: It may increase the sedative effect of these medications.
  • Blood pressure medications: Melatonin may increase blood pressure in individuals taking medication for hypertension.
  • Diabetes medications: Melatonin may increase blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
  • Immunosuppressants: Melatonin may reduce the effectiveness of immunosuppressive therapy that may be taken for autoimmune diseases or organ transplants.
  • Contraceptives: Contraceptives may increase melatonin levels, increasing side effects such as drowsiness.
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine): This selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), may also increase melatonin levels and drowsiness.

It is not advised to take melatonin while pregnant or nursing due to a lack of research.

Dosage and Preparations

Melatonin is available over-the-counter at many pharmacies and health supplement stores as tablets, lozenges, gummies, tinctures, and other preparations.

There is no daily recommended amount for melatonin, but it is typically sold in doses ranging from 1 mg to 10 mg.

Healthcare professionals typically recommend starting with the lowest doses and gradually increasing your intake until you find the amount that works for you. In research studies, 3 mg melatonin was the standard dose.

Melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement, so it is available without a prescription but is not regulated as strictly by the FDA as prescriptions or over-the-counter medications.

When to Take Melatonin

Melatonin plays a critical role in regulating our biological clock, or circadian rhythm, and the timing of doses is important. It is normally produced in a part of the brain called the pineal gland and is released during the period of darkness from sundown to sunrise. When taken as an oral supplement, it reaches a maximum concentration in your blood after 30 minutes.

Most people should take melatonin in the evening before going to bed, but there are certain conditions where it can be taken in the early morning.

  • For trouble falling asleep: Take melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime. 
  • For night owls: People with delayed sleep phase syndrome may want to take melatonin several hours before the desired bedtime. For example, if you naturally fall asleep at 2 a.m., but you desire to go to bed at 11 p.m., you may consider taking it at as early as 9 p.m.
  • For early birds: If you have symptoms of advanced sleep phase syndrome, where you wake up several hours too early, try taking it in the morning upon awakening. This condition is relatively rare, however, perhaps affecting less than 1 percent of people. If considering use in this way, consult with a sleep physician for guidance.

What to Look For 

Production and quality standards are not enforced for supplements, so the dose may actually vary from the listed strength. A 2017 study that analyzed to contents of 31 melatonin supplements and found that the melatonin levels ranged from 83% lower to 478% higher than what was listed on the product label. In addition, different bottles of the same product varied drastically.

When selecting a brand of supplements, look for products that have been certified by Consumer Labs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. 

Other Questions

Is It Safe to Take Melatonin Every Night?

Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes naturally, and its short-term use in a supplement form is also believed to be relatively safe for most people. It is not habit-forming, and you will not become addicted or dependent upon it. It can be used on a nightly basis without fear of adverse consequences.

Research into long-term safety is still lacking, especially in children, so you may want to periodically reduce or stop taking it to see if you are able to sleep well without it.

A Word From Verywell

If your insomnia persists, speak with a sleep specialist about other possible causes of your condition, including sleep apnea. It may also be important to consider other treatment options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI). There are effective treatments available, so get the help that you need to end insomnia and sleep better.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Kryger MH, et al. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. Elsevier, 6th edition, 2016.