Melatonin: How It Affects Your Body, and Your Sleep

Dr. Steve Salvatore November 22, 2017

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you’ve doubtlessly heard about the benefits of taking melatonin supplements. But you probably have a few questions: “Is it safe?” “How much should I take?” “How long should I take it for?” Perhaps the biggest question of all is: “Exactly how does melatonin affect sleep?

What is melatonin?

To begin with, you should know that melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the human body.  Melatonin doesn’t really make you sleep – but as your melatonin levels rise in the evening, the hormone eases you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep.

Most people’s bodies produce enough melatonin to let them sleep on their own; however, some don’t. Additionally, there may be circumstances like temporary insomnia, overcoming jet lag, or unavoidable changes in a person’s sleep schedule due to work or school demands. These are instances where taking melatonin can be useful.

Less is more

If you decide to take melatonin supplements to get back on a regular sleep schedule, keep in mind that less is more. Limit yourself to a one-to-three milligram dose approximately two hours before you would like to begin sleeping. Higher doses can leave you feeling groggy the next day.

If you plan to use melatonin to help combat future jet lag, begin taking it a couple of days before your trip so your body will become accustomed to it.

Know when to stop

Now that you know when to start, you should also know when to stop. If melatonin seems to help, it’s safe for most people to take nightly for one-to-two months. If it isn’t helping after a week or two, simply stop using it. If you still have trouble falling asleep, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Most important, don’t use melatonin if you are pregnant, nursing, have high blood pressure, seizure disorders or depression. If you have any doubts or questions, call or visit the STAT Health team. We’ll be happy to answer your questions!