If you're someone who dreads heading to bed each night because it takes hours upon hours to fall asleep, you have probably experimented with, or at least heard about, melatonin. It's a natural hormone that's produced by our bodies to help regulate our sleep cycles. It comes in supplement form, too — gummies and pills and powders.
But even though it's incredibly common, there's a lot of misinformation about melatonin out there — starting with how much is actually safe to take. (Hint: More is not always better.) We dug into the research to clear up exactly how you can make it work for you.
Smaller doses are better. It is possible to overdose on the hormone. Taking too much melatonin at once will disrupt your normal circadian rhythms, and can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness, or irritability, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Yeah — not exactly conducive to great sleep.
That said, the best dose is the topic of some debate. The NSF says you can take as little as 0.2 mg, or up to five mg, but the organization suggests starting with the smallest amount. If that doesn't help you fall asleep, the next time you take it you can increase your dose, capping things off at 5 mg. But as with any supplement or medication, you should chat with your doc before starting to take it. Melatonin could interact with other meds or health conditions.
You shouldn't take it every day. You can take too much melatonin in a single go, but you can also take too much in smaller doses, over a long period of time. Melatonin should be taken on "a short-term basis if you’re experiencing insomnia, want to overcome jet lag, or are a night owl who needs to get to bed earlier and wake up earlier, such as for work or school," Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, PhD, CBSM, said in an interview on the Johns Hopkins website. Experts don't know what could happen if you take it daily over a long period of time; until more research is done, experts are recommending staying on the safe side. If taking melatonin does appear to help your sleep problems, and your doctor has signed off on it, then it’s okay for most people to take each night for around one to two months, according to Buenaver. "After that, stop and see how your sleep is," he said. If you're still tossing and turning, head back to your doctor to discuss your options.
It might give you weird dreams. Yes, this is a thing. Melatonin increases rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep — the stage of sleep where you dream, according to a 2000 study. It's old research, but there's a ton of anecdotal evidence to support the findings: Melatonin can make your dreams out of this world. Maybe another reason to start with a low dose.
It's not like a sleeping pill. If you're using melatonin for intermittent insomnia, the NSF suggests taking it an hour before bedtime to give it time to shift you into sleep mode. Again, check with your doctor; some might suggest 30 minutes before turning in, or two hours. But don't take it just before shutting off the lights and expect to be zonked out within a few minutes.
Choose your source wisely. Dietary supplements, including melatonin, aren't regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Looking for products that have been independently verified for quality and purity by a third-party company, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, can help ensure you're getting a high-quality product, according to Poison Control.
Explore alternative sleep aids. Because why not? It's always a good idea to do things to boost your sleep hygiene, such as stepping away from any blue light devices an hour before bed, developing a relaxing nighttime routine, or dabbling in meditation.