If you toss and turn at night and have trouble getting a quality night’s sleep, well…join the after-hours club. An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans report having difficulty sleeping, according to the Institute of Medicine Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research. That’s likely one of the reasons the sleep supplement melatonin has become so popular in recent years.
Chances are, you’ve heard of melatonin. But you might not know when or how you should take it to support your well-being. Want to make the most of melatonin’s benefits? We’ve got you covered.
What is melatonin?
“Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone produced by a gland in the brain called the pineal gland,” explains Maryland-based internal medicine specialist Matthew L. Mintz, M.D. “It has a variety of roles, but is primarily involved in regulating the natural sleep-wake cycle.” Basically, melatonin keeps your body clock in-sync.
Melatonin has existed naturally in animals and plants for millions of years. However, it’s only been used as a supplement for the past few decades, Mintz says.
Research published in PLoS Medicine suggests melatonin supplementation can benefit individuals dealing with occasional sleeplessness by helping them both fall asleep faster and score higher-quality sleep. Meanwhile, research published in Sports Health has shown that melatonin can be effective for those with jet lag.
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The hormone may also help those experiencing feelings of anxiety feel more at-ease (and thus sleep better), adds Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., a dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe. (You can book a free consultation with her here!)
Because of its roles in sleep, melatonin may also influence heart health. “Lack of sleep and disrupted sleep patterns can lead to elevated blood pressure and increase risk of heart disease,” explains Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D.
Best practices for supplementing with melatonin
Sleep is something we all need, so most healthcare providers will give you the thumbs-up to supplement with melatonin if you’re having trouble drifting off. Still, it’s important to discuss your medical history with your provider to make sure the supplement makes sense for you—and to keep these best practices in mind.
1. Make sure melatonin Fits Your Unique needs
While melatonin can help support a properly-functioning body clock, it’s most effective in specific circumstances. “Those likely to get the most benefit are those with regular sleeplessness or disturbed sleep-wake cycles, such as ‘night owls’ and shift workers,” Blakely says. “There is also potential benefit in taking a single dose of melatonin when traveling to help prevent jet lag, or if your sleep routine gets thrown off during vacation or on the weekend.”
2. Start Small
More melatonin doesn’t necessarily mean better results. “Most studies on melatonin support low-dose usage over a matter of weeks or months,” says Blakely. In fact, some people experience side effects from larger doses, including drowsiness, nightmares, nausea, and headaches.
Blakely recommends starting with the lowest dose of melatonin available: 0.5 milligrams. If you don’t notice any positive effects after one week, increase your dose to one milligram. (Factors like age and body weight can impact your individual needs.) If that still doesn’t do the trick after a week, increase to three milligrams. After yet another week without results, increase to five milligrams.
3. Get your timing right
Blakely recommends taking melatonin at least 30 minutes before your desired bedtime. “This gives the supplement time to break down, be absorbed, and get into your bloodstream to prepare your body for sleep,” she says.
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Also important to note: “If you have trouble staying asleep, you may want to consider a sustained-release melatonin that will release slowly throughout the night,” says Blakely. (Try The Vitamin Shoppe brand’s Sustained Release Melatonin.)
4. Practice good sleep hygiene
Taking melatonin to support quality Zzz’s doesn’t mean you should forgo other helpful bedtime rituals. Blakely recommends dimming your lights and turning off all electronics two hours before getting into bed.
5. Consider pairing it with other supplements
Since melatonin is a natural substance, you can safely combine it with other supplements for a synergistic effect. A few popular options: magnesium, CBD, and calming herbs.
“This can be especially effective when low melatonin levels are not the reason someone has trouble sleeping,” she says. “CBD with a little melatonin (like VThrive The Vitamin Shoppe brand CBD + Sleep Blend) is a great option.” She also recommends melatonin with herbs such as valerian and passionflower, like The Vitamin Shoppe brand Snooze-In with Melatonin.