Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 29, 2022
What Is Melatonin?

What Is Melatonin?

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Melatonin is a hormone that directs your circadian rhythms, or the internal clock that tells you when to sleep. Your brain makes and releases melatonin according to the time of day. You make more when it’s dark outside and less when it’s light out. As you get older, your brain produces less melatonin. Luckily, you can also get this hormone as a supplement.

The Sleep Supplement

The Sleep Supplement

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Melatonin is best known for helping with sleep issues like jet lag, insomnia, and delayed sleep phase, a disorder that causes you to go to sleep later and wake up later. It also can treat circadian rhythm sleep disorders in those who are blind. Melatonin can help you fall asleep a bit faster than you normally would, but its effects on your quality of sleep and the amount of time you sleep are still being studied. More research is also needed on whether melatonin can help you sleep if you work late shifts.

Other Health Benefits

Other Health Benefits

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Melatonin might control more than sleep. Although more research is needed, early studies show the hormone can affect your body temperature and lower nighttime blood pressure if you have hypertension. But research about how melatonin affects blood sugar is conflicting. Animal studies suggest it may help with weight loss, but more research is needed to see if that holds true for humans.

More Benefits Being Studied

More Benefits Being Studied

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Early studies suggest melatonin also might be helpful for macular degeneration, gastroesophageal reflux disease (heartburn), tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and migraines.

Is It Safe?

Is It Safe?

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Think of melatonin as a sleeping pill; something you’d take for a short period of time but not all the time. Melatonin is usually safe for occasional use, but researchers aren’t sure of its long-term effects. Always check with your doctor first about use and dosage, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or have dementia, epilepsy, or an autoimmune disease. Some people might have an allergic reaction to melatonin.

Potential Side Effects

Potential Side Effects

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The most common side effects of melatonin supplements are headache, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness during the day. Rare side effects include confusion, stomach cramps, crankiness or depression, tremors, and anxiety. If you have any side effects, ask your doctor if it’s safe to continue taking melatonin.

Drug Interactions

Drug Interactions

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Melatonin is considered a dietary supplement in the U.S., which means it’s not regulated as strictly as over-the-counter medications. In some countries, you need a prescription for it. Melatonin doesn’t mix well with certain medications, including:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Birth control drugs
  • Blood thinners
  • Blood pressure drugs
  • Central nervous system depressants
  • Diabetes medications
  • Diazepam (Valium, Valtoco)
  • Drugs that lower your seizure threshold
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
  • Immunosuppressants
Natural Melatonin in Food

Natural Melatonin in Food

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Your body makes melatonin naturally – it’s even in breast milk. Certain foods also have natural melatonin. Eggs, fish, and nuts have the highest amount, but you can also find it in some kinds of mushrooms and grains. Tart cherries have both melatonin and tryptophan, an amino acid used to make melatonin and serotonin. This combination might help you get to sleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

How Much to Take and Why

How Much to Take and Why

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Take just enough melatonin to get the job done, starting with .3 milligram to 1 milligram. If that doesn’t work, talk with your doctor about increasing the amount. If you take too much melatonin, you might get headaches, feel nauseated, or feel drowsy in the daytime.

Can Kids Take Melatonin?

Can Kids Take Melatonin?

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In general, short-term use of low-dose melatonin is safe for kids and adults, but not for babies. Because it’s not regulated strictly by the FDA, it’s best to ask your pediatrician to recommend a safe brand and dosage for your child’s age, weight, and overall health.

How to Choose It

How to Choose It

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Melatonin comes in two forms: natural and synthetic. The natural version is made from the glands of animals and may contain viruses that make you sick. To avoid that risk, use the synthetic version instead.

When to Take It

When to Take It

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Melatonin isn’t a fast-acting supplement. To get the most benefits, take it a few hours before bedtime. Closer to bedtime, set yourself up for sleep success by making sure your room is cool and dark. Turn off your screens and go to bed around the same time every night.

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SOURCES:

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: “Effects of Melatonin in Age-related Macular Degeneration.”

The Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology: “Melatonin: Can It Stop the Ringing?”

BMC Gastroenterology: “The Potential Therapeutic Effect of Melatonin in Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “Melatonin.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Melatonin: What You Need To Know.”

Journal of Pineal Research: “Daytime melatonin and light independently affect human alertness and body temperature,” “Exogenous Melatonin Decreases Circadian Misalignment and Body Weight Among Early Types.”

Nutrients: “Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin.”

Hypertension     : “Daily Nighttime Melatonin Reduces Blood Pressure in Male Patients With Essential Hypertension     .”          

Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome Journal: “Melatonin: New Insights On Its Therapeutic Properties In Diabetic Complications.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Can Cherries Help You Get A Better Night’s Sleep?”

University Hospitals: “The Truth About Taking Melatonin to Help You Sleep.”

Children’s Health: “Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?”

Familydoctor.org: “What Is Melatonin?”