Understanding Melatonin Supplements

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Many people who have trouble sleeping opt to take a melatonin supplement to help them combat insomnia. Melatonin is a natural hormone that is made in the body by the pineal gland located in the brain. It has an internal "on and off switch" that is regulated by light. The release of the hormone into the bloodstream occurs at night, and only in dark conditions. The hormone causes sleepiness by helping the body transition into sleep mode.

Once released, melatonin levels stay elevated in the body for approximately 12 hours, with peak production between 2am to 4am. When morning comes, the gland switches off and during the daytime, melatonin is barely detectable in the blood stream. Luckily, this natural sleep regulator has been found in some plants and is available as a supplement.

Melatonin dosage

The recommended dosage to treat insomnia is between 1 and 3 mg. Start out on the lowest dosage possible and increase as necessary. Melatonin should be taken about one hour prior to bedtime. It should not make you irritable or sleepy the following day.

Melatonin side-effects

At an ideal dosage, melatonin generally does not cause serious side effects. Most people do not report feeling irritable or sleepy the following day. However, each person is unique and some people have reported side effects such as vivid dreaming, changes in blood pressure, reduced sex drive, stomach cramps and headache.

If you experience side effects, it may mean you are taking too much of the natural sleep aid. Lower your dosage to see if the side effects go away. To date, there have not been any cases of melatonin overdoses. Melatonin is non-addicting.

What you should knowThe pineal gland only switches on when it is dark. Even if it is bedtime and you have been up all day, your body will not produce melatonin if you are in a bright environment. Dimming the lights in your environment in the hour or so leading up to bedtime helps to turn the pineal gland on.

When you take a melatonin supplement, be aware that it can reset your biological clock. This may be desirable if you are working a night shift and need to sleep during the day. However, melatonin should not be taken just to help you take a nap.

The amount of melatonin the body produces also lessens with age. This is why someone who has never had insomnia before may develop it as they age. Some older adults produce no melatonin at all.


Because melatonin makes you sleepy, you should not drive or participate in activities that require you to be fully alert.

Melatonin is safe at low doses for short and long term use. However, you should advise your physician if you are going to start taking melatonin if you are on prescription medication.

Melatonin can interact with medications such as birth control pills, diabetes medications, immuno-suppressants, and blood thinners. Pregnant and breast feeding women should not take melatonin without consulting their doctor.

If you'd prefer to improve your sleep without melatonin supplements, you may want to take a look at my free online sleep training course for insomnia.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.