Because it plays a crucial role in regulating our internal body clocks, melatonin is a popular supplement among people who have problems sleeping. Unfortunately, many people who take melatonin never realize its maximum benefit because they use it incorrectly.
Taken properly, however, supplemental melatonin can be an excellent way to minimize restless nights and reduce troublesome sleep problems. Here are the rules you should follow when using this supplement:
- Take the correct dose
- Observe a washout period
- Take it at the right time
- Don’t evaluate effectiveness too soon
Take the Correct Dose
The most common misstep people make when using melatonin to address problems sleeping is overuse.
Research shows that the most effective dose of melatonin is just 0.3 mg, or enough to boost the blood plasma level to that of a young adult. No more, no less. (Learn more about why people have more sleep problems as they age.) However, most melatonin products on the market are available only in doses ranging from 1 mg to 10 mg. That means virtually everyone using the supplement is flooding their brains with way too much of it.
Taking too much melatonin is not dangerous, but it does have side effects. One is that melatonin levels tend to remain elevated into daylight hours, possibly causing grogginess and a general “hung over” feeling. A worse side effect is that regularly taking melatonin in doses of 1 mg or greater can actually make your problems sleeping worse. This occurs when the receptor proteins in the brain that melatonin interacts with are consistently overwhelmed by an excess of it. This causes the receptors to become progressively less responsive to the effect of melatonin, until they stop working altogether.
Observe a Washout Period
This rule applies to anyone who has been taking doses of melatonin exceeding 0.3 mg per day. Before adjusting your dosage level, you must observe a one-week washout period during which you abstain from taking any melatonin at all.
The purpose of a washout period is to allow the receptors in your brain—which may have become desensitized to the higher doses—to reset themselves. (This happens naturally after all of the supplemental melatonin has been metabolized out of the body.) Once the receptors are working normally again, most people become more responsive to the lower, healthier dosage level and experience fewer problems sleeping.
If you have not previously taken melatonin as a way to solve problems sleeping, the washout rule does not apply.
Take It at the Right Time
To get to sleep and stay asleep, take supplemental melatonin 30–60 minutes before bedtime.
Give It Time to Work
Some people will have fewer problems sleeping within a day or two of taking supplemental melatonin. However, it often takes up to a week to completely reset your body clock. Therefore, be sure you take melatonin daily for 6–7 days before evaluating its effectiveness.