Can Melatonin Really Help You Sleep Better?

Find out if supplements help the sleep-deprived

Does Melatonin Help You Sleep?

When you have insomnia, counting sheep won’t help you fall asleep, stay asleep, or both.

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Can supplementing melatonin help you sleep? This light-sensitive hormone, produced by your brain’s pineal gland, controls your body’s sleep-wake cycle.

Millions need more zzzzs

Insomnia affects millions of people. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that:

  • 30 to 35 percent of U.S. adults experience brief periods of insomnia
  • 15 to 20 percent have insomnia for less than three months
  • 10 percent have chronic insomnia (three times a week for over three months)

What the research says

“Scientists are just beginning to understand how well melatonin supplements work for different sleep problems, and when and how much it should be taken,” says sleep specialist Michelle Drerup, MD.

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A few studies suggest that taking melatonin for short periods of time — meaning days or weeks — is better than a placebo for:

  • Reducing the time it takes to fall asleep
  • Increasing the number of hours you sleep
  • Boosting your daytime alertness

Studies also suggest melatonin supplements may improve sleep for people with disrupted circadian rhythms (from jet lag or working the night shift, for example). Research also suggests that those with low melatonin levels (such as some elderly people and those with schizophrenia) can benefit from melatonin supplements.

“Some evidence suggests that melatonin may work best for insomnia in those who are over age 55,” Dr. Drerup adds. Insomnia becomes more common as sleep patterns change with age.

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How much do you need?

For melatonin to be helpful, it’s important to tailor your dose, method and time of day to your specific sleep problem. “Taking it at the ‘wrong’ time of day may actually make your sleep disorder worse,”  warns Dr. Drerup.

It’s best to start with very low doses of melatonin. “Keep the dose close to the amount that your body normally produces (< 0.3 mg per day),” advises Dr. Drerup. “You should only use the lowest amount possible to achieve the desired effect.”

She recommends working with your doctor to find the safest and most effective dose for you. The right dose should produce restful sleep, with no daytime irritability or fatigue.

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