Medically reviewed by Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
Lauren is a board-certified adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner. Lauren has done NP clinical practicums focusing on the adolescent, adult, and geriatric populations in internal medicine, long-term care, and in outpatient oncology/bone marrow transplant. Lauren received a BA from Assumption University, a BSN from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and her MS in Nursing from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. She is certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the brain’s pineal gland. As day turns to night, the brain responds by producing melatonin to prepare the body for sleep. Light disrupts melatonin release, which can throw off the natural circadian rhythm and negatively affect wake-sleep cycles. 

Without a good night’s sleep, it’s hard to move through the waking hours with drive and purpose. When the circadian rhythm is thrown off, it can be possible to regulate it through a synthetic hormone supplement known as exogenous melatonin. The dietary supplement can be purchased in pill, capsule, liquid or chewable form.

How Does Melatonin Affect Sleep?

Exposure to light during the night hours can negatively affect sleep patterns, as the light disrupts natural melatonin production. Without melatonin, the body doesn’t know to switch from wake to sleep mode, so some suffer from the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Some people have delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD), which delays their sleep-wake cycle into the early morning hours (2 a.m. to 6 a.m.), causing them to wake in the late morning or early afternoon. Others may have anxiety prior to a surgical procedure, experience jet lag or have other health issues that affect melatonin production.

Should I Take Melatonin Supplements To Sleep? 

If you have trouble sleeping, melatonin supplements could help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Melatonin may not work for everyone, and there are some side effects to consider before trying it. Certain medications can interact with melatonin supplements, so it’s important to speak with your doctor if you’re taking any medications before trying melatonin to help you sleep. Melatonin also affects age groups differently, as outlined below. As always, ask a doctor before taking melatonin or giving it to a child. 

Melatonin For Children

Studies are lacking in the effects melatonin supplementation has on young children. So far, it’s been found to have more positive effects on children with neurological disorders like autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Supplementing with melatonin has shown children can fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer during short-term treatment.

Melatonin For Teens

Teens may find their sleep schedules interrupted due to a temporary event- school break, vacation, early school start times or even hormonal changes brought on by puberty. Increased sensitivity to light can greatly affect their circadian rhythm and natural melatonin regulation, which may be corrected temporarily by taking melatonin for sleep.

Melatonin For Adults

Research is mixed on the effectiveness of melatonin supplementation in adults. Melatonin may not work best for issues like insomnia, but there are other natural remedies to improve sleep that could. However, researchers have found benefits to melatonin usage for sleep-wake cycle disorders and short-term issues like jet lag.

Melatonin For Seniors

In seniors, melatonin supplementation has shown positive results, depending on any underlying disorder. For example, melatonin seems to work better for those with underlying depression compared to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Consult a doctor before giving melatonin to seniors. 

How To Take Melatonin And What Is The Appropriate Dosage? 

One of the hesitations and frustrations with proper melatonin dosing is that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements like medications. Melatonin manufacturers are free to include any melatonin level and other ingredients in products, with suggested dosage only. 

For children and teens, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking melatonin orally 30 to 90 minutes prior to bedtime. Dosage should start small at 0.5 mg and increase as needed up to 6mg, monitoring for side effects. It is important to note that before a child takes melatonin, it needs to be approved and monitored by a doctor. If a child is approved to take melatonin, parents shouldn’t increase a dose without the consultation of a doctor. 

After also first discussing with a doctor, adults should stick with this dosage and timeline, with seniors starting as low as 0.3mg, paying attention to side effects.

What Are The Common Side Effects Of Melatonin?

Melatonin supplements are considered generally safe to take, with minimal side effects, and are not habit-forming. The most common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache 
  • Nausea

Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery within five hours of taking melatonin due to daytime drowsiness.

Other less common side effects can occur:

  • Becoming disoriented
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Irritability
  • Mild anxiety
  • Mild tremors
  • Reduced alertness

Melatonin can also have negative interactions with certain medications, so check with your doctor before taking melatonin to know if it’s right for you.

With most studies conducted in short-term trials, potential long-term side effects are not clear.

How To Choose A Melatonin Supplement?

While regulated by the Melatonin supplements, as opposed to other medications, are not regulated by the FDA. This means that the supplements don’t have to meet stringent guidelines. Buzz words on natural supplements like “certified,” “natural,” and “verified” are also not regulated. There are many brands and formulations available over-the-counter, found on drug and grocery store shelves or at online retailers. 

Researchers have found that dosage recommendations are largely inaccurate after sampling 31 melatonin supplements and finding 71% to be incorrect. Though these organizations cannot guarantee the safety of a particular product, they can provide certification and information on potential contamination and mislabeling:

  • NSF International
  • US Pharmacopeia (USP)

Final Thoughts

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycles. When this rhythm is thrown off, whether due to a specific event like jet lag or certain neurological disorders, it can limit the length and quality of sleep in all age groups. Some studies show benefits of melatonin supplementation as a short-term solution in some age groups and disorders with minimal side effects. While generally considered safe to take as a sleep aid supplement, long-term studies are still needed to determine who melatonin is best for and which dosage is most effective. Again, if you think melatonin may be right for you, consult a doctor before determining your right dose.