Americans are exhausted—and desperate for solutions. Eighty percent of adults in the U.S. struggle with sleep at least once a week, according to a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 1,767 adults.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland. That’s a pea-sized gland found just above the middle of your brain. It helps your body know when it’s time to sleep and wake up.
Normally, your body makes more melatonin at night. Levels usually start to go up in the evening once the sun sets. They drop in the morning when the sun goes up. The amount of light you get each day — plus your own body clock — set how much your body makes.
You can also buy melatonin supplements. They come in pills, liquids, and chewables. You might find them in natural or synthetic forms. The natural forms are made from the pineal gland in animals.
What to Know Before You Take Melatonin
- Start small and don’t overdo it. Many stores sell supplements that are packed with far more melatonin than the body naturally produces. Czeisler recommends starting with a low dose, between 0.2 and 0.5 mg. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a supplement trade group, says doses should not exceed 10 mg, even though products with higher doses are available.
- Get it from a safe source. Supplements aren’t subject to the same standards set by the Food and Drug Administration for safety and efficacy as are over-the-counter and prescription drugs. That means supplement makers don’t have to show that their products work. Certain supplements may contain a higher or lower dose or may have other potentially dangerous ingredients. Labels from the supplement-verifying organizations ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, USP, and UL can provide some assurance that a product contains what’s listed on its label and that the product isn’t contaminated with something risky
- Make sure it won’t interact dangerously with other drugs you take. Melatonin canchange the way other drugs work, making blood pressure and diabetes drugs less effective and increasing the effects of blood-thinning drugs, for example. Talk to your doctor before taking melatonin if you use any medication.
- Be careful driving the next morning. Short-term use of melatonin is generally considered safe, Rodriguez says. But some people do report drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, or nausea. The Council for Responsible Nutrition says not to drive while using melatonin. In our survey, we found that 24 percent of supplement users experienced drowsiness or fogginess the day after taking it, and 22 percent had driven within seven hours of taking a supplement for sleep.
- Be cautious about long-term use. Studies have shown that melatonin appears to be safe when used for three months or less, according to reviews of research and the NIH. But a lack of long-term studies means we don’t know if long-term use is safe. Over one-third of respondents in our survey said they’d been taking a supplement for sleep for a year or longer.
- Talk to a doctor about sleep problems. Whether melatonin helps you, you should consult your doctor if you’ve had trouble sleeping for three months or longer, according to Rodriguez. “The longer insomnia goes, the more difficult it is to treat,” he says.
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