What are Melatonin Supplements?

Adam Hill

Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the brain, in the pineal gland. It is used by the body to help regulate the circadian rhythm, which is the body’s cycle of sleeping and waking. Melatonin levels begin to rise in the evening, when the eyes indicate to the brain that daylight is dimming. Melatonin supplements are often used to help a person adjust to an earlier bedtime, as well as to treat jet lag and insomnia.

Headaches can be the result of taking too much melatonin.
Headaches can be the result of taking too much melatonin.

Melatonin supplements are available as over-the-counter pills in the United States and Canada, and by prescription only or not at all in most other countries. Because melatonin supplements are not sold as medication in the U.S., the guidelines set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not apply to them. Some newer FDA rules, however, aim to ensure a measure of quality control and accurate labeling for dietary supplements including melatonin.

Melatonin supplements can help people who have trouble sleeping.
Melatonin supplements can help people who have trouble sleeping.

Some studies indicate that melatonin supplements actually contain several times more melatonin than is actually needed for most purposes. Even at these dosages, side effects are rare, but may occur if more than one dose is taken daily. These can include next-day grogginess, nightmares, and headaches. The appropriate dosage of supplemental melatonin can actually vary from one person to another, and also depends on what condition the supplement is being used to treat. As with all healthcare products, it is wise to consult a health professional before using melatonin supplements.

Melatonin can regulate a person's sleeping and waking cycle.
Melatonin can regulate a person's sleeping and waking cycle.

Because melatonin is sometimes used in the treatment of insomnia, some people think that it constitutes a natural sleeping pill. This is not quite accurate, since melatonin on its own will not induce sleep in the way that a sleeping pill does. Rather, it induces changes in the brain that prepare the body for sleep. There are other precautions to take into account when using melatonin supplements, such as avoiding taking them during the day. Doing so can confuse the body’s sleep cycles, exacerbating problems like insomnia and jet lag. This has also been shown to correlate with a higher incidence of depression.

Next-day grogginess can occur if someone overdoes melatonin supplementation.
Next-day grogginess can occur if someone overdoes melatonin supplementation.

It is generally safest to take melatonin supplements in low doses for short periods of time. Certain people, such as children and women who are pregnant or nursing should seek a doctor’s approval before taking melatonin. It should only be taken in its synthetic form, since melatonin that is naturally derived from animals can carry disease.

Melatonin supplements help induce sleep but are not considered substitutes for sleeping pills.
Melatonin supplements help induce sleep but are not considered substitutes for sleeping pills.

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Discussion Comments


@LisaLou-- That's actually very common. As we get older, our body produces less and less melatonin. In addition to that, many of us live in areas with a lot of light at night and we have so many electronics to keep us awake like our TV, cell phone and laptop.

All of this makes it harder to sleep, so don't be tense that this is happening to you. I think taking melatonin supplements is a good idea. Melatonin is natural and little to no side effects. I think it's much safer than some of the alternatives, especially sleeping pills.

I think you should keep taking it as you have been and also try to stop watching TV or using the computer an hour before going to bed. A warm bath or a glass of warm milk at night helps as well.


@SauteePan- Wow, that really is a huge dose! I've never heard of anyone taking so much! The most I've taken is 10mg and I'm taking 5mg daily right now.

Actually, I've heard that we shouldn't put a minimum or maximum number for melatonin dosage, because different amounts are right for different people. 5mg is enough to regulate my sleep, but it might not be for someone else.

I think anywhere between 5 and 20mg is what most people use and I've read on many forums that people seem to benefit more from it when it's a lower dose.

I also like the gel capsules and time-release capsules. These seem to work better than tablet supplements, I think it's released more evenly in the body this way.


When I was complaining of jet lag, a friend of mine told me to try some melatonin supplements.

Since I am used to taking supplements for nutritional benefits, I didn't think much about it.

After taking some melatonin, I was able to relax and fall asleep quite quickly. This was helpful, because I had a full day ahead of me and wanted to feel refreshed.

What I wasn't expecting was the awful headache I had the next day though. The only thing I did different was take the melatonin and have been afraid to try it again.

I don't know what would have been worse - working with an awful headache or feeling tired and run down. I think I will find a different way to deal with my jet lag instead of using a melatonin supplement.

I know they work great for some people, but for some reason I had a bad side effect from them.


Once I turned 45 I had a hard time sleeping at night. This was really wearing on me as I felt exhausted and tired all the time.

My doctor knows my first choice is to try some kind of supplement or herbal remedy for things like this.

Instead of prescribing a prescription sleep medication, he recommended I try some melatonin supplements first to see if this would help.

I started out slowly and right away noticed that I was sleeping much better through the night. What happened though, is that after awhile, they didn't seem to work anymore. It was like I built up an immunity to the supplement.

I quit using them to give my body a break. Now I only use them on nights that I really struggle to fall asleep and don't take them on a regular basis.

I have the best results if I take them about 30 minutes before bed and try to do something relaxing like read a book for awhile before going to sleep. I can feel myself winding down and becoming drowsy and fall asleep much easier this way.


Yea, I think there is a common misconception that melatonin supplements induce sleep and I have heard of people taking it daily every night just like a sleeping pill or a vitamin and mineral supplement.

So I'm wondering, when the article says that melatonin supplements should be taken for a short period of time, how long is that?

Is one of the reasons for this because melatonin supplements become addictive?

My sister took it for a week after she came from her trip abroad to help her with the jet lag. It really helped her, especially after the third day, she slept well and on time. But when she decided to stop taking it, she had trouble sleeping again.

So I'm wondering if melatonin supplements somehow get in the way of our natural melatonin production and cause us to become dependent on it. Any ideas?


I was watching a television program the other day that dealt with insomnia and many of the woman on the panel used melatonin supplements. One lady was taking about 60 mgs which was a huge dosage and as a result she had horrific nightmares that ironically disrupted her sleep.

It was really sad because I could not image not being able to sleep. Although melatonin can be used as a sleep supplement, you really have to be careful because too much can cause additional problems like nightmares.

It is better for a doctor to prescribe the supplement rather than take the supplement on your own because many of these supplements are not regulated by the FDA and you can really suffer from bad side effects if you are not careful.

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