Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the body and helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. However, despite its natural production, there is significant interest in supplementation with many wondering – how much melatonin should I take?
Here we will walk you through everything you need to know about the popular supplement including what the research says about its benefits as well as how much you should take to maximize its impact while staying safe.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Melatonin
Simply put, melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in our bodies. It is produced in the pineal gland, located in the midline of our brain, and plays a major role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. In other words, it is crucial to how well we sleep.
In general, production of this hormone increases in darkness and decreases when exposed to light. As a result, it mainly occurs at nighttime. However, some nutritional factors such as tryptophan intake may modify or increase overall production, although to a lesser extent than light.
What does melatonin do?
Melatonin primarily helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle through its interaction with the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus and the retina.
It starts with the retina delivering information regarding dark conditions to the SCN. From there, the SCN sends signals through the sympathetic nervous system to the pineal gland which triggers the production of a key enzyme AA-NAT. This enzyme enables a series of conversions which ultimately result in melatonin production. That production then activates MT1 and MT2 receptors which promote sleep and regulation of circadian rhythm.
Benefits of Melatonin
The main direct benefits of melatonin supplementation include an increase in total sleep time, reduced sleep onset latency and improved sleep quality. Let’s take a look at what each of these means and how that could have an impact on our overall health.
Increased Total Sleep Time
Total sleep time is exactly what it sounds like – the total amount of time we sleep each night. This includes the amount of time from when a person starts to fall asleep through when they wake up including the different stages of sleep like rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
A meta-analysis of 19 studies involving 1,683 subjects found that melatonin supplementation increased total sleep time by an average of up to 15 minutes. In addition, trials with longer durations (28 days+) and higher doses (5mg) demonstrated greater effects on total sleep time. In other words, the longer an individual took higher doses consistently (up to 5mg) the more impact it had on total sleep time.
Reduced Sleep Onset Latency
Sleep onset latency is the amount of time between when a person attempts to sleep until they actually fall asleep measured by EEG and behavioral parameter changes consistent with normal sleep. Simply put, it is how long it takes you to fall asleep.
Multiple reviews of existing research have shown that melatonin supplementation significantly reduces sleep onset latency. In addition, much like total sleep, trials with longer durations (28 days+) and higher doses (5mg) demonstrated greater effects on total sleep time.
Improved Sleep Quality
Sleep quality is a combination of objective and subjective measures with regard to an individual’s overall sleep. Objective measures like polysomnography measure brain waves and oxygen levels in the blood while subjective measures may include scales, questionnaires or sleep logs.
In a comprehensive meta-analysis of existing research, melatonin showed a significant effect in improving sleep quality. This included similar improvements in both subjective and objective measures of sleep quality. However, unlike total sleep time and sleep onset latency, there did not appear to be a greater effect with regard to higher doses or longer duration.
Melatonin Benefits Beyond Sleep
Some research suggests that melatonin’s health benefits may go well beyond sleep. For example, one study found that 3mg of daily intake seems to protect the retina and delay macular degeneration. In addition, another study found that melatonin supplementation in combination with omeprazole played a role in improving heartburn pain. However, melatonin’s role in these instances is still not fully understood and more research is needed.
Does melatonin lower blood pressure?
According to one meta-analysis, melatonin does seem to lower blood pressure. However, the impact is relatively small and only observed in controlled-release supplementation. Still, the authors concluded that melatonin could be beneficial at night for patients at high risk of cardiovascular complications. Furthermore, additional research supports the general cardiovascular benefits of supplementing with the naturally occurring hormone.
Does melatonin help with anxiety?
There is little evidence to support the claim that melatonin supplementation will help with anxiety. However, an analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials did find that supplementation may reduce pre and post-operative anxiety in surgical patients.
In addition, another study found that the hormone can prevent anxiety-like behavior brought on by sleep deprivation. So while it is unlikely to be a cure for all anxiety, it does seem that melatonin supplementation may be beneficial in some situations.
How Much Melatonin Should I Take
While there is no official recommendation for the amount of melatonin you should take, most studies seem to support a dosage between 1-5mg. This is where many individuals saw positive benefits with the least amount of reported side effects.
Increased sleep time, reduced sleep onset latency, and improved sleep quality were the main positive benefits of supplementation. Furthermore, at higher dosage (5mg) there was an increase in the positive effects of sleep time and sleep onset latency. However, the impact on sleep quality was the same at 1mg, 2mg, and 5mg dosage.
How much melatonin is too much?
There is no official recommendation on how much melatonin is too much. Although, the majority of studies reviewed did use a dosage between 1mg and 10mg. However, more frequent side effects were reported at higher doses. As a result, it seems that a dosage between 1mg to 5mg would be most appropriate. Regardless, talk with your doctor if you are considering starting supplementation as they will be able to help you figure out an appropriate starting point!
What happens if you take too much melatonin?
If you take too much melatonin you may experience unpleasant side effects such as a rash, headache, insomnia, or gastritis. Fortunately, most of these are relatively minor and not cause for panic. In rare cases, high doses of this supplement may result in more serious side effects like rapid heart beat or dizinness. However, these were mostly observed in patients with comorbidities at extremely high doses.
Generally, melatonin toxicity is extremely low in both animal and human studies. In other words, while some individuals may experience side effects, it is unlikely to be fatal. In fact, researchers could not discover a lethal dose of the hormone in animal studies even in doses as high as 800 mg/kg.
Can you take melatonin while pregnant?
You should not take melatonin while pregnant since the safety of this supplement during pregnancy is unclear. However, there is a growing body of evidence showing several positive benefits, specifically related to cardiovascular and neurological outcomes. Additional research is still needed to fully understand its effects as well as the appropriate treatment duration and dosage. If you are considering a melatonin supplement while pregnant, talk with your doctor before getting started. Never begin any new supplement or medication regimen without first speaking with a qualified healthcare professional.
Can you take melatonin with alcohol?
There is very little research looking at the effects of taking melatonin and alcohol simultaneously. However, research shows that alcohol may reduce overall sleep quality and disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm. In addition, alcohol can have sedating effects which may compound the potential side effects of this supplement. As a result, it is probably best to avoid taking these two together.
Is Melatonin Safe
Yes, melatonin is relatively safe with a low risk of side effects. In studies where the dosage stayed between 1-5mg, few side effects were reported even amongst patients with existing disease. In addition, even at slightly higher doses, the side effects reported were mostly minor including:
- Daytime sleepiness
Furthermore, there is no evidence that people can develop a tolerance or addiction to this supplement which means it could be a safer alternative to benzodiazepines with regard to sleep.
This supplement may not be safe for patients that are pregnant, have an autoimmune disease, or are undergoing dialysis. Always talk with your doctor before starting, stopping, or changing any medication or supplement regimen.
Is melatonin safe for kids?
While melatonin is generally safe, there is limited research regarding whether it is safe for kids. However, it may still be worth testing for some parents as up to 25% of healthy kids experience trouble sleeping. Parents considering the supplement for their child should always consult with their physician before incorporating any new supplement. Additionally, children with immune disorders or those using immunomodulating treatments should avoid taking this supplement as it may cause serious medical complications.
Can melatonin cause headaches?
Melatonin can cause headaches as well as other minor side effects in some cases. However, this generally occurred at higher doses or with extended-release formulas. Although there is no official dosage recommendation, most studies saw positive benefits between 1 to 5mg with minimal side effects.
If you are considering melatonin as a supplement, talk with your doctor about the best dosage to start at. To avoid side effects like headache or daytime sleepiness, start small (<1mg) before slowly increasing over time.
Is melatonin addictive?
There is no evidence that melatonin is addictive or that people can develop a tolerance to it. As a result, it may be a good alternative to benzodiazepines as a sleep aid. Additionally, melatonin has low side effects and acute toxicity making it a relatively safe choice as a sleep aid. In fact, researchers could not discover a lethal dose of the hormone in animal studies even in doses as high as 800 mg/kg.
Does melatonin affect birth control?
It is unlikely that melatonin will affect birth control, especially non-hormonal methods. However, it does seem the supplement still has some relevance to hormonal birth control methods (pills, contraceptive injection, etc.).
Taking melatonin along with birth control pills may increase its impact and associated side effects. In addition, a 2020 meta-analysis found that the supplement significantly increased the clinical pregnancy rate, the number and maturity of oocyte, and good quality embryo. In other words, melatonin may increase fertility. This is likely where the idea that it cancels out birth control comes from, although there is no research that confirms this.
Ultimately, it is still unclear exactly how and to what extent the two interact. If you are using birth control and considering supplementation, talk with your doctor. They will be able to provide you with the best possible advice based on your individual situation.
Does Melatonin Expire
Melatonin does expire in the sense that it has an expiration date on the bottle. However, these expiration dates do not necessarily mean that it is unsafe or toxic to consume. This date is just an indicator from manufacturers as to when the full potency can no longer be guaranteed.
Nonetheless, we would not recommend consuming medication past its expiration date since there is no guarantee to its safety or efficacy. Learn more about how to know when a medication expires here.
Over the last 20 years, melatonin supplementation has increased by more than 400%. If you are considering a melatonin supplement, talk with your doctor to see whether it is appropriate for you!