Melatonin is a hormone that your body has naturally and uses to help regulate your sleep.
There is also a synthetic form of melatonin, which you can take for sleeping problems such as insomnia.1
Typically, people take melatonin for short-term sleeping issues, rather than long term ones.
It can help you fall asleep quicker, and then stay asleep once you are asleep.
People may also take melatonin for jet lag.2
Melatonin is most recommended for people over 55, and also sometimes for children. Adults may take it to help ease headaches.3
Some adults have a night owl schedule, where they go to sleep several hours later than most people, and also wake up later.
If that system is working for you, there is no need to change it, but some people can feel frustrated by DSWPD (Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder), where your sleep patterns are shifted back by hours.
Having work or school commitments that force you to get up early can make DSWPD difficult, and melatonin may help in this regard.4
Insomnia does not just mean you cannot sleep all night, for nights in a row.
It is also when you wake up various times throughout the night, when you wake up early and cannot get back to sleep, when you feel tired during the day, struggle to nap when you need to, and when you find it hard to go to sleep at night.5
Insomnia can be a reaction to something really difficult in your life (such as a relationship breakup, or loss), or it can have other causes such as depression, stress, or anxiety.
There are also a number medicines and illnesses that can cause insomnia, such as conditions like bipolar disorder, or Parkinson’s, and an overactive thyroid.
Long-term pain, snoring or interrupted breathing (i.e. sleep apnoea), and nightmares can also impact your ability to get a full seven or so hours of sleep.6
In addition, noise, a bedroom that is too cold or hot, uncomfortable beds, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, recreational drugs, jet lag, and shift work can all cause or contribute to insomnia.7
Identifying any of these causes that are affecting you can help you to make immediate adjustments and remedy or reduce the insomnia you are experiencing.
Going to bed at the same time every day can also help, and relaxing (without your phone or computer) a good hour before bed is ideal.8
The pineal gland, located in your brain, is what produces the hormone, melatonin.
Your body produces it just after it gets dark, and you have the highest amount of the hormone in the early hours of the morning.
With daylight, it reduces. It acts on receptors in your body to promote sleep.9
When you consume melatonin (most typically as a tablet), it adds to your body’s natural supply.
Some people do not have enough melatonin, for various reasons. The levels you have do tend to decline with age.10
Other factors that can cause low melatonin levels at night include stress, smoking, exposure to light at night (for example the blue light from your phone or computer), not getting enough natural light during the day, and shift work.11
The amount of melatonin you will need to take, as well as the duration, will depend on the severity of the issue and its exact nature.
Most people take melatonin for one to four weeks, though some people may take it for up to 13 weeks,12
The tablets you will most likely take are 2 mg, and they will be slow-release tablets, so that the melatonin is gradually entering your blood throughout the night.
The best time to take a tablet is one to two hours before bed, as that is roughly how long they take to be absorbed and start working.
Take the tablet after food, and swallow whole.13
Alcohol and smoking can stop the tablets working well, so it is best to avoid these for the duration that you’re taking melatonin.14
For sleeping issues related to jet lag, the usual dose is a 3 mg tablet.
In this case, if you have travelled across more than five time zones, going east, the change in timing can affect your sleep, your thinking, your energy levels, mood, and digestion.
Typically, you would take the melatonin tablet after arriving at your destination, just before a normal bedtime at the new location.15
Last updated: 22 March 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018
Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.
Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.