What’s the Right Way to Take Melatonin?

The short answer from a sleep specialist
Profile of Male Head with Hypothalamus and Pineal Gland Anatomy

Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain’s pineal gland, which controls your internal sleep and body clock.

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The supplements you buy in the store contain a synthetic version of melatonin. They will not increase your sleep drive or put you to sleep, and most research does not show significant benefit in using them as “sleeping pills.”

But if melatonin is taken at a time and dosage that is appropriate for someone’s sleep problem, it can help shift the biological sleep clock earlier. This can be helpful for shift workers and people with circadian rhythm disorders.

My general recommendation is “less is more,” or 0.3 milligrams to 1 milligram taken several hours before bedtime. Unfortunately, most melatonin sold over-the-counter is available in doses ranging from 3 milligrams to 10 milligrams, which is much more than your body needs.

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To allow your body’s own melatonin to work best, you should create optimal conditions. Keep lights dim in the evening and avoiding using a computer, smartphone or tablet before bed, as bright light exposure can inhibit the release of melatonin. In addition, getting light exposure in the morning can help keep your sleep-wake cycle on track, so get outside for a morning walk when you wake up, if possible.

— Sleep specialist Michelle Drerup, PsyD

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