Melatonin Modestly Effective for Sleep
Jury Still Out on Long-Term Benefits for Insomnia, Other Sleep Problems
Daytime Sleep, Jet Lag
Scheer tells WebMD that while the benefits of taking melatonin for nighttime
sleep are unproven, the hormonal supplement does appear to help shift workers
and other people who need to sleep during daylight hours.
Melatonin is produced naturally by the brain's pineal gland at night to
regulate sleep, but production goes way down during the day. Melatonin
supplementation appears to trick the body into thinking that it is
While the large review suggested that melatonin is not useful for
, Scheer says that may only be half true. He says the supplement
may help speed up the internal clock, helping to adjust to a new time zone. But
it does not seem to be as effective in helping to readjust to one's original
So while taking melatonin may benefit a traveler who loses five hours flying
from Boston to London, it probably won't help as much on the return trip.
"You would want to delay the onset of sleep when returning from London
to Boston, and it appears that melatonin is not as effective for that,"
Is Dosage the Key?
While the studies to date suggest that melatonin is only modestly effective
for promoting nighttime sleep, all agree that the research is far from
Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Richard Wurtman, MD, is
credited with discovering the sleep-inducing properties of supplemental
melatonin back in the early 1980s. Wurtman served as principal investigator of
the newly published review.
He tells WebMD that the research on melatonin and sleep is misleading
because the dosages used in the studies were often too high.
Wurtman contends that the optimal dosage of melatonin is just 0.3 mg and
that taking much higher doses causes the hormone to stop working within a few
days. Commercially available melatonin preparations contain up to 10 mg of the
"People are getting doses of melatonin that raise [blood levels] of the
hormone to up to 500 times what is normal," he says. "At that dosage it
either stops working after a while or actually causes insomnia in some
He says supplement manufacturers market higher-than-optimal doses of
melatonin because MIT holds a patent on the hormone at dosages of up to 1 mg.
That patent was issued before the FDA classified melatonin as an unregulated
"If the FDA were regulating melatonin as a drug, as I believe it should
be, then it would be sold in its highest fully effective dose, which is 0.3
mg," Wurtman says. "But that isn't happening."
Wurtman's research suggests that melatonin is both safe and effective for
the long-term treatment of insomnia and other sleep problems when taken at this
dosage shortly before bedtime. He says this appears to be especially true for