Sleep Benefits of Melatonin


Written by Leigh Saner

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Breus

Our Editorial Process

Table of Contents

The following content should not be used as medical advice or as a recommendation for any specific supplement or medication. It is important to consult your health care provider prior to starting a new medication or altering your current dosage.

Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone in the body that plays a significant role in regulating when you fall asleep and when you wake up. Melatonin is also available as a supplement that can be purchased over the counter as a pill, gummy, liquid, patch, or spray.

Melatonin may be a useful tool for some sleep issues, but more studies are needed to understand the best way to use melatonin and the potential risks of long-term use.

If you are considering taking melatonin, it can be helpful to learn about how melatonin affects sleep, whether children can take melatonin supplements, and potential safety issues or side effects. 

How Does Melatonin Work? 

Melatonin is a hormone released by an organ in the brain called the pineal gland. Melatonin helps to direct your sleep-wake cycle. The sleep-wake cycle is the daily pattern in your body that determines when you feel sleepy and when you wake up.

Your body produces more melatonin during the evening in response to darkness in the environment. This increase in melatonin helps your body wind down when it is time to go to bed. The production of melatonin decreases in response to light in the morning, helping you wake up and feel more alert.

Melatonin can also be taken as a supplement in either fast-release or slow-release formulations. Melatonin supplements are usually a form of synthetic melatonin and can be purchased without a prescription. 

Although taking a melatonin supplement may provide some sleep benefits, it is not a solution for every sleep problem.

Does Melatonin Help With Sleep? 

Research has shown that melatonin supplements may be helpful for people with certain sleep disorders.

  • Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder: Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder is a sleep disorder in which a person has persistent trouble falling asleep and getting up on time because of a delay in their sleep-wake cycle. Research has shown that taking melatonin before bedtime can help people with this disorder fall asleep faster.
  • Jet Lag: Jet lag is a travel-related sleep disorder in which a person’s sleep-wake cycle doesn’t match the time of day at their destination. Melatonin can reduce symptoms of jet lag like daytime sleepiness and fatigue, though it may not make it easier to fall asleep at the right time.
  • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder: Non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm disorder is a sleep disorder in which a person’s biological clock is out of sync with the daily cycle of light and darkness. People with this disorder may benefit from using melatonin to improve their sleep.

Many people use melatonin supplements to treat symptoms of insomnia, such as difficulty falling asleep or repeatedly waking up during the night. While melatonin supplements may help people with insomnia fall asleep a few minutes faster, it’s unclear if melatonin can help people stay asleep longer. 

Most people don’t have a melatonin deficiency. But for some populations, if you have jet lag or you do shift work, it might make sense to use melatonin.
Dr. Michael Breus

Melatonin and Children 

Research on melatonin’s safety and efficacy for children is limited. Some experts are concerned about the effects of melatonin on a child’s development and potential risks if taken long-term.

Most children’s sleep issues are related to behavior rather than problems with their sleep-wake cycles. Improving your child’s sleep hygiene is an effective way to help them achieve sufficient rest. Healthy bedtime rituals can boost sleep hygiene, including implementing screen time curfews, following a set bedtime and wake-up schedule, and participating in relaxing pre-bed activities like reading time or a bath.

Melatonin can be a helpful tool for some children when used in combination with improvements in bedtime behaviors. Doctors may recommend melatonin for children with diagnosed delays in their sleep-wake cycles, as well as those with chronic sleep issues related to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or autism spectrum disorder. It is important to discuss any sleep issues your child is experiencing with their health care provider before introducing melatonin supplements. A physician can choose a treatment regimen that aligns best with your child’s needs.

Is Melatonin Safe?

Research suggests that melatonin is likely safe for adults when taken in appropriate doses for short-term sleep problems. But more research is needed to understand the effects and risks of long-term use.

The right dose of melatonin depends on a person’s age and the sleep issues they are experiencing. Experts recommend taking melatonin at a low dosage and increasing as needed with guidance from a doctor. 

Because melatonin is considered a dietary supplement, it isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way as other medications. Some melatonin products may contain a different dose or additional ingredients beyond what is listed on the label. For this reason, it can be helpful to work with a health care professional to find a reputable supplement.

Some people should avoid taking melatonin supplements until after speaking with their doctor, including those who:

  • Are taking medications, especially blood thinners
  • Have epilepsy, dementia, or depression
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have had an organ transplant 

What Are the Side Effects of Melatonin? 

While side effects of melatonin can occur, they are typically mild. Side effects of melatonin supplements may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Irritability

Other Ways to Improve Sleep 

Taking melatonin supplements is one strategy to improve sleep, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Depending on the nature of your sleep issues, a doctor may recommend starting with another approach before trying medications, such as improving your sleep hygiene or trying cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)

Cultivating good sleep hygiene is about building healthy sleep habits. Taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene can help you protect your sleep-wake cycle and get a better night’s sleep.

  • Keep a Consistent Schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends, helps you maintain your sleep-wake cycle. For children, this means helping them keep a consistent bedtime.
  • Limit Exposure to Artificial Light: Your brain uses light and darkness to know whether it’s time to be awake or asleep. Being exposed to light from electronic devices in the evening can affect your body’s production of melatonin. 
  • Get Enough Sunlight Throughout the Day: Getting outside during the first part of the day can help you wake up in the morning and feel tired at the right time in the evening.
  • Limit Caffeine and Nicotine: Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can make it more challenging for you to fall asleep. In fact, caffeine from coffee, tea or energy drinks can have effects that linger for up to 8 hours.

About The Author

Leigh Saner

Staff Writer

Leigh is a freelance wellness writer and a national board-certified health and wellness coach based in Greenville, North Carolina. With a master’s degree in public health, she has been a coordinator of health services at the Edgecombe County Health Department in North Carolina. She enjoys researching health information and synthesizing it to support health literacy and well-being. Leigh is particularly passionate about providing practical ways for people to reduce stress and adopt healthy lifestyle practices to improve sleep quality.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Neutral Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Dolphin

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