Wellness & Education

Melatonin: Sweet Dreams or Not?

Falling asleep can be a lot harder than it looks and not everyone is open to taking sleeping pills. There are a lot of natural remedies for insomnia, including hot milk, herbal tea, counting sheep and sleep masks. One of the most popular “natural” treatments for insomnia is melatonin. Natural melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate our sleep and wake cycles.  

Most people who take melatonin hear about it through advertisements or by word-of-mouth. At this point in time, research has not clearly proven its effectiveness.  

“According to practice guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2017) and the American College of Physicians (2016), there’s not enough strong evidence on effectiveness or safety of melatonin supplementation for chronic insomnia to recommend its use.” Melatonin: What You Need To Know | NCCIH (nih.gov) 

Dosage & Timing 

Melatonin is usually given in 1 to 5 milligram doses for adults. When taken one to three hours before bedtime, it appears to help some people fall asleep more quickly. It is most effective about an hour after being taken. After 4 to 8 hours its concentration begins to decline, so it is less effective at helping people sleep the entire night.   

Safety & Side Effects 

While melatonin appears to be safe for adults to take in the short term (up to 3 months), it’s not without side effects for some people. Although usually mild, these side effects can include:  

  • Headache 
  • Daytime sleepiness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea 
  • Short term depression 
  • Vivid dreams 

Before starting to take melatonin, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider. It can interact with some medications, including blood thinners. It should also not be used by people with epilepsy, those who suffer from liver problems or people on dialysis. 

Melatonin & Children 

Since melatonin is a hormone that has not been thoroughly researched, it’s not clear whether it can affect the hormonal development of children and teenagers. For this reason it should be given to them carefully and only for short periods of time.