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When you count sheep every night and slog through your mornings bleary-eyed, it can be tempting to reach for a sleep aid to put you out of your misery. Many people turn to melatonin supplements, which are available over-the-counter and used for combating sleepless nights caused by jet lag, insomnia, or other sleep disorders.
Though these supplements are commonplace and widely used to enhance sleep, you might have several questions about trying them. Is melatonin safe to use every day? How long does melatonin last? What is the best time to take melatonin?
This guide covers all the essentials you need to know about how melatonin supplements work and using them safely for a good night’s sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally produced by the body in response to darkness. It’s secreted by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located in the middle of the brain. Melatonin’s main function is to regulate your natural sleep-wake cycle, which is why it’s also referred to as the sleep hormone.
When it’s nighttime, your body typically produces more melatonin, signaling that it’s time to sleep. However, the amount of melatonin that your body produces is dependent on how much light you get every day. Exposure to bright light even two hours before bedtime is known to suppress melatonin production, which is why sleep experts recommend avoiding screens at night.
Melatonin supplements are a synthetic version of the natural hormone your body produces. Many people take it to fight sleeplessness, improve the quality of their sleep, and regulate the body’s circadian rhythm.
These supplements are a popular sleep aid because the body naturally produces very little melatonin, around 0.3 milligrams, which is not always sufficient for getting a good night’s rest. On the other hand, melatonin in its synthetic form is available in much higher doses, varying from 0.5 to 10 mg.
Finding the dose that works for you is key, but research has shown that taking melatonin supplements can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and promote a healthier sleep cycle if you struggle to get a good night’s sleep.
Melatonin dosage is tricky because it varies depending on a number of factors, including age, health conditions, and your reason for using it.
The United States Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate melatonin, which is classified as a dietary supplement. As a result, there aren’t any clear guidelines on how much melatonin is effective for a good night’s sleep, but it’s important to exercise caution.
Taking a high dosage comes with the risk of an accidental overdose with side effects, such as an upset stomach, headaches, anxiety, joint pain, and irritability. For your safety, it’s best to start with a low dosage. Since 0.3 mg is around the amount your body naturally produces, stick to a dosage that’s between 0.5 to 5 mg, depending on your needs. In case you find that isn’t effective, try the next dosage.
If you’re unsure about the dosage or concerned about its effects, consult a health care professional for advice.
Melatonin supplements won’t put you to sleep instantly. Rather, it works by kickstarting the biological process that slows your body down and puts you in a state of wakefulness. For that reason, taking it right before you go to bed might not help you fall asleep any faster. But it’s important to note that melatonin works differently for every individual.
For some people, the drowsy effects of melatonin may not kick in until 2 to 3 hours after they’ve taken the supplement. However, others might feel tired after less than 30 minutes. The results will vary widely depending on the amount of dosage you’ve taken, how tired you are, and the kind of supplements you’re using.
Regular melatonin supplements are immediately released, which means they start releasing melatonin into your bloodstream immediately. Another variation is the extended-release melatonin, which takes a while to dissolve. One of the perks of these extended-release supplements is they’re designed to mimic the way your body naturally falls asleep, but this also means that you won’t be able to fall asleep as soon as you take them.
The best time to take melatonin may be different based on whether you opt for immediate release or extended-release supplements.
Since most melatonin supplements available on the market are immediate release, try taking it an hour before you plan to fall asleep. If you’re taking it for the first time, take it 30 minutes before bed. Melatonin works differently for every person, but once you have a better idea of what works best for you, you’ll be able to adjust the timing accordingly.
The half-life of melatonin supplements, which is the time it takes for your body to metabolize half the tablet, is 60 minutes. It takes around 4 to 5 half-lives to fully eliminate the supplement from your body. This means that melatonin can stay in your body for up to 5 hours, which is why it’s essential to take melatonin at the right time.
However, everyone’s metabolism works differently and it may take your body longer or shorter to metabolize melatonin. Here are some of the factors that can affect how long melatonin lasts in your body:
Most doctors and health experts agree that melatonin is safe for use on a regular basis. But large studies haven’t been done to determine whether melatonin supplements are safe for long-term use.
It’s also important to note that melatonin supplements may not be safe for everyone. You shouldn’t take melatonin at all if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, it’s essential to check with your doctor to determine whether it’s safe.
As a general rule, it’s best not to rely on melatonin for long-term use. One benefit is that, unlike many sleeping pills, the chances of developing a dependency on melatonin are low, which means you should be able to stop taking it whenever you decide to. In case you end up taking it every night, be sure to stick to a smaller dose to avoid any unwanted side effects, such as vivid dreams, daytime grogginess, and headaches.
A great alternative to melatonin supplements is eating foods that are rich in melatonin. Here are some foods that help you sleep by increasing melatonin levels in your body naturally:
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, melatonin supplements could be an effective solution. However, though melatonin is generally safe for short-term use, it’s best not to depend on them on a nightly basis.
Instead, try and get to the bottom of your sleepless nights and understand what’s causing it. If you’re frequently waking up with aches and pains, it might be a sign that your bed needs to be replaced. To ensure an uninterrupted night’s sleep, invest in the best mattress possible. Memory foam and a hybrid mattress are both designed to provide pressure relief for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
Aside from investing in a high-quality mattress, cultivating healthier sleep habits, such as establishing consistent sleep and wake times and avoiding screens, can also help you improve your sleep.
Are you taking melatonin? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.