Tired of Counting Sheep?

Melatonin supplements can help you drift off to dreamland

Written By Jenny Peterson
Photographs By Prostock-studio & New Africa

A good night’s sleep is essential for physical well-being, and even just one sleepless night can wreak havoc on our mood and performance. If you find yourself tossing and turning at bedtime—perhaps due to a racing mind, too much stimulation or an inconsistent schedule—a melatonin supplement can help bring on the ZZZs.

Our brains make the hormone melatonin in response to darkness, telling our bodies it’s time to rest; light, on the other hand, inhibits the production of melatonin, which keeps us awake. (This is why the National Sleep Foundation encourages turning off electronic devices half an hour before bed.) For those who can’t fall asleep—even in the dark—melatonin supplements help by mimicking the body’s natural sleep-inducing hormone.

In 2018, 2.1 percent of Americans reported turning to synthetic melatonin for sleep, more than five times the fraction of users in 1999, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. “Melatonin supplements are generally safe for short-term use and tolerated well by most people. They’re safe for children and teens, as well,” says Dr. Lauren Munck, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated primary care doctor. “These supplements may also benefit those with neurological disorders, dementia or blindness or who’ve experienced a stroke.”

Melatonin isn’t for everyone, however. The supplement may interfere with some medications. People with seizure disorders and mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also use melatonin with caution. The most common side effects include vivid dreams, dizziness, headache, daytime sleepiness and abdominal discomfort. It’s also important to keep in mind that melatonin helps with falling asleep, not staying asleep.

For the greatest result, practice a sleep routine that brings out the benefits of added melatonin. “Light at night can block melatonin production,” says Dr. Munck. “Make sure to not watch TV or use phones or other blue-light devices/bright stimuli before bed, as this can confuse your body and disrupt your circadian rhythm.”

Sleepy Time

Tips for taking an over-the-counter melatonin supplement

  1. Melatonin works best when taken about 30 to 90 minutes before bedtime.
  2. Melatonin is available in fast-acting pills, gummies, liquids and dissolvable tablets as well as extended-release pills and transdermal patches that deliver the hormone over time.
  3. Typical doses range between 1mg and 5mg for adults and 0.5mg and 3mg for children ages three and older.
  4. Melatonin can be taken daily, but if your sleep onset doesn’t improve within a few weeks, see your doctor for an evaluation.
  5. Children and teens with difficulty sleeping may have underlying medical conditions or behavioral issues, so talk with your child’s doctor about sleep troubles.