A Sleep MD Explains How Long Before Bed to Take Melatonin

Take melatonin in the morning to stay up later and about 4 to 5 hours before your usual bedtime to sleep earlier. Use your natural supply for everyday sleep.
Updated
2023-08-15
21 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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How Long Before Bed Should You Take Melatonin? 

  • You should take melatonin about four to five hours before bed to feel sleepy earlier than usual and take it at your usual wake-up time to feel sleepy later than usual. 
  • If you’re taking it around bedtime, take melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before bed. But heads-up, melatonin isn’t as effective at this time (it’s more effective at shifting your sleep-wake cycle than helping you fall asleep). 
  • The RISE app can tell you when to take melatonin to sleep earlier and guide you through sleep habits to help you fall asleep with or without supplements.

Melatonin can help you feel sleepy at bedtime, but timing is everything. If you take melatonin at the wrong time, you could make yourself feel drowsy during the day or push your circadian rhythm, or body clock, back — meaning you sleep later than usual. 

So how long before bed should you take melatonin exactly? Below, we’ll dive into what scientific research and a sleep doctor have to say. Plus, we’ll cover how the RISE app can help you make sure you take melatonin at the right time for you, and how it can help you get a good night’s sleep if you decide to skip the supplements altogether.

A Sleep Doctor's Advice

For a sleep expert’s advice, we turned to Dr. Chester Wu, who is double board certified in sleep medicine and psychiatry. He’s also a sleep advisor and medical reviewer at Rise Science.

“Melatonin works best when you’re using it to shift the timing of your sleep schedule. To sleep earlier, I usually tell my patients to take melatonin about four hours before the time they’d like to be asleep. To sleep later, take melatonin in the morning. Take melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before bed if you’re taking it to fall asleep, but know it may not be as effective at this time.”

How Long Before Bed Should You Take Melatonin?

How long you need to take melatonin before bed will all depend on what you’re trying to do. 

To sleep earlier than usual, take melatonin four to five hours before bed. To sleep later, take it at your usual wake-up time. To fall asleep at bedtime, take it 30 to 60 minutes before bed, but know that melatonin isn’t as effective when you take it in the evening.

Melatonin is best used to change the timing of your circadian rhythm, your roughly 24-hour body clock that controls your sleep-wake cycle. It’s not as effective when used like a traditional sleep aid to fall asleep. 

That means melatonin can be useful when: 

  • Getting over jet lag 
  • Adjusting to shift work 
  • Shifting your sleep schedule 

Melatonin supplements work best when your natural melatonin levels are low, i.e. during the day. This is why you take it during the day to shift your sleep-wake cycle, and why it can help you sleep at times you usually wouldn’t (like a night shift worker trying to sleep during the day).

If you take it before bed at night, you may fall asleep faster, but only by a small amount — or you may not notice any difference at all. We've covered other reasons why melatonin may not work for you here.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies melatonin as a dietary supplement, so there are no set guidelines around when to take melatonin. But here’s what we know about when to take melatonin before bed. 

To Get Over to Jet Lag 

You can take melatonin to help you get over jet lag faster. In this case, the best time to take melatonin will depend on which direction you’re traveling in. 

  • If you’re flying west, take melatonin in the morning to help you go to sleep later than usual. 
  • If you’re flying east, take melatonin in the afternoon or evening to help you sleep earlier than usual. 

More research needs to be done on the exact timing, but here’s what one paper suggests based on multiple studies: 

For eastbound flights up to nine hours long: 

  • Before the flight: Take 5 mg of melatonin, wake up earlier, and get bright light exposure. Get enough sleep before traveling. 
  • Day of the flight: Take 5 mg of melatonin at 6 p.m.
  • After the flight: Wake up in the morning and do 30 minutes of outdoor exercise to help you adapt. Take 5 mg at bedtime until adapted.

For westbound flights up to nine hours long: 

  • Before the flight: Take 1 mg of melatonin after waking up and gradually start waking up later. Get enough sleep before traveling. 
  • Day of the flight: Take 1 mg after waking up 
  • After the flight: Stay up until your new target bedtime and get natural light exposure. Take 1 mg when you next wake up. 

For flights in either direction that are 10 to 14 hours long: 

  • Before the flight: Stay up later and get natural light exposure. Take 1 mg after waking up. Get enough sleep before traveling. 
  • Day of the flight: Take 1 mg after waking up.
  • After the flight: Do 30 minutes of outdoor exercise in the morning and afternoon. Take 5 mg of melatonin at bedtime.

The more time zones you’ve crossed, the longer it can take to adjust. 

Heads-up: Many experts recommend taking small doses of melatonin of 0.5 mg to 3 mg. Most clinical trials study 2-mg doses, so larger doses aren’t as well-researched. 

Plus, research shows 0.5 mg of melatonin may be just as effective as 5 mg for treating jet lag, although 5 mg can help people fall asleep faster than 0.5 mg doses. Doses larger than 5 mg may be no more effective. 

Large doses can increase your risk of side effects, make you sleepy during the day (when you don’t want to be), and if you wake up with elevated melatonin levels, this may push back your sleep cycle when you’re trying to bring it forward.

We’ve covered how much melatonin is too much here. 

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To Adjust to Shift Work 

If you work nights and need to sleep during the day, or work rotating shifts and need to sleep at different times throughout the month, melatonin may help you adjust to the new sleep schedule faster. 

Take melatonin in the morning to push your sleep cycle back. And take it about four to five hours before your usual bedtime to fall asleep earlier.

 

However, even though research shows melatonin can be useful for shift workers, not everyone agrees it’s the right option. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies looking into this are small or inconclusive. 

And some experts advise against it. Josephine Arendt from the University of Surrey wrote in the Journal of Biological Rhythms: “Sleepiness/poor performance in the workplace or on the flight deck is a potential short-term problem with wrongly timed melatonin administration; hence, I strongly advise shift workers and flight crew members not to self-medicate with melatonin at present; that is, until we can be certain of correct timing.” 

To avoid the risks of drowsiness at work, light therapy may be a better option for shift workers. Alternatively, melatonin can help you get back to a normal sleep schedule after a stint of night shifts. 

To Shift Your Sleep Schedule 

If you’re a night owl trying to become a morning person, taking melatonin short term can help you shift your sleep schedule earlier. 

Take melatonin four to five hours before the time you’d like to go to sleep to fall asleep earlier.

One study found taking 0.5 mg of melatonin in the afternoon is enough to shift your sleep schedule earlier when coupled with bright light exposure in the morning. 

On the flip side, melatonin can help you stay up longer. If you’re an extreme early bird trying to sleep in later, take melatonin when you usually wake up to push your sleep cycle back. 

Once you’ve shifted your sleep schedule, use good sleep hygiene to stick to it, rather than relying on melatonin supplements. 

Heads-up: Sleep hygiene is the set of daily habits you can do to fall and stay asleep more easily each night. RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep habits and tell you the best times for you to do them to make them more effective. More on these below. 

Learn how to reset your sleep schedule here. 

To Fall Asleep at Bedtime

Melatonin doesn’t knock you out immediately like some sleeping pills can. That means you shouldn’t take melatonin as you crawl into bed if you want to fall asleep straight away. And you shouldn’t take it if you wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall back to sleep, either. 

If you’re taking melatonin in the evening, take it 30 to 60 minutes before the time you want to sleep. The supplement will likely reach peak levels in your system within an hour, and this should coincide with the time you try to fall asleep.

The one caveat here? Melatonin works best when your natural melatonin levels are low. So the earlier you take it, the more effective it’ll be. But this can make you feel sleepy earlier than usual. If you take it late in the evening, you may only fall asleep a few minutes faster (which could be the placebo effect), or you may get no real effects at all.

To take the guesswork out of it, RISE can tell you the best time to take melatonin to feel sleepy earlier.

RISE app screenshot reminding you to take melatonin supplements
The RISE app can tell you when to take melatonin to fall asleep earlier.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you’re interested in taking melatonin to help with a sleep disorder. They can advise you on the best course of action. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their take melatonin supplements reminder here.

What’s the Best Time to Take Melatonin?

The best time to take melatonin will depend on what you’re trying to do. To fall asleep earlier than usual, take melatonin four to five hours before bed. To fall asleep later than usual, take melatonin at your usual wake-up time. To fall asleep at bedtime, take it 30 to 60 minutes before bed (although, again, it may not be as effective at this time, even if you time it right). 

There’s no set time to take melatonin before bed, however, as melatonin affects us all differently. And if you’re taking an immediate-release or fast-release melatonin, you may feel the effects sooner than if you’re taking a slow-release or extended-release tablet.

Higher doses may also kick in faster than lower doses, and therefore you’ll feel the effects sooner. 

These timing recommendations also apply to when you want to get a full night’s sleep. If you want to take a nap, it’s not advisable to take melatonin. The supplement can last in your system for four to eight hours, so you may feel drowsy after the nap and mess with your circadian rhythm, disrupting your next night of sleep.  

If you’re planning a nap, do it during your mid-afternoon dip in energy to fall asleep more quickly. RISE can tell you when this will be each day.

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What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone your brain makes to help you feel sleepy and wind down. As long as it’s dim enough, the pineal gland in your brain will start producing melatonin about two hours before your biological bedtime. This moment is called the dim light melatonin onset, or DLMO. 

Melatonin lowers your body temperature, blood pressure, stress hormones, and your alertness levels, helping you fall asleep. It plays a part in keeping your circadian rhythm in check. 

Most of us have all the melatonin we need to fall and stay asleep. But aging, certain medical conditions, and medications can disrupt or reduce our melatonin production. And there may be times when we want to shift our sleep schedule or sleep when we typically wouldn’t — and this is when melatonin supplements can come in handy.   

The hormone can be made in the lab or from animal glands, and you can buy melatonin pills, gummies, capsules, patches, and sprays. This synthetic melatonin can trick your brain into thinking it’s sunset, making you wind down for sleep when you wouldn’t normally be doing so.

However, it doesn’t force you to sleep like over-the-counter sleep aids do. It works best when your natural levels of melatonin are low — hence why it’s best used to shift your sleep schedule or sleep when you usually wouldn’t, like during the day. 

And it doesn’t necessarily make you sleep for longer or increase the amount of deep sleep you get. Instead, it works by shifting the timing of your circadian rhythm, changing the times when your body naturally wants to sleep. When you take it at night like a traditional sleep aid, it may help you fall asleep a few minutes faster.

Melatonin can be useful when overcoming jet lag or shifting your sleep schedule. And they can be prescribed for sleep problems. They may also help those with ADHD, pre-surgery anxiety, high blood pressure, and cancer. 

You can learn more about what melatonin does here. 

How Long After Taking Melatonin Will I Fall Asleep?

How long it takes you to fall asleep after taking melatonin will depend on when you took it and how large of a dose you took. 

If you take melatonin before bed, you may fall asleep within 30 to 60 minutes. But melatonin isn’t as effective when taken in the evening as your natural melatonin levels are already high. 

If you take it in the afternoon or evening, you should feel sleepy around four to five hours later. 

And if you take melatonin in the morning, you should feel sleepy later than usual (useful for shift workers or those battling jet lag).

But melatonin doesn’t force your body to sleep, so things like late-night light exposure or caffeine can keep you awake. 

Larger doses may help you fall asleep faster than smaller doses, but they increase your risk of side effects, morning grogginess, and accidentally pushing your sleep cycle back. 

More research needs to be done to find out how long after melatonin you’ll fall asleep, and how gummies, patches, and sprays work compared to pills. 

Can I Take Melatonin 20 Minutes Before Bed? 

If you’re taking melatonin before bed, it’s recommended you take it 30 to 60 minutes before bed. 

Taking melatonin 20 minutes before bed may work, but it also may not help you fall asleep much faster. And if you take a high dose, you may still have high levels of melatonin in your system in the morning, which can push back your circadian rhythm. 

How Long Does it Take 3 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg of Melatonin to Kick in? 

It can take melatonin 15 minutes to 3.5 hours to kick in and reach maximum levels in your system. Melatonin can then take a long time to wear off, and the effect it has on your sleep will depend on when you took it. 

Taking melatonin in the morning can push back your sleep cycle, whereas taking it in the afternoon or evening can bring it forward to help you fall asleep earlier than usual.

Taking it before bed may not be that effective as your natural melatonin levels are already high.  

Larger doses may kick in faster than smaller doses. But large doses are not usually recommended. 

We’ve covered more on how many mg of melatonin to take here.  

Can You Take Melatonin at 3 a.m.? 

You shouldn’t take melatonin at 3 a.m. Melatonin won’t force you to sleep, make you drowsy straight away, or change how restful your sleep is. Instead, it can change the timing of your circadian rhythm. 

If you take melatonin at 3 a.m. you may wake up with high melatonin levels, which can push back your circadian rhythm the next night. 

Instead of popping a melatonin, we’ve covered what to do if you’re awake at 3 a.m. here. And the RISE app has many tools, guides, and soothing sounds to help you fall back asleep. 

How Long Does Melatonin Last?

Melatonin can last for four to eight hours. It has a half-life of 20 to 45 minutes, meaning it takes 20 to 45 minutes for your body to metabolize half of the amount of melatonin you take. 

But how long melatonin lasts can depend on your age, and whether you’ve had caffeine, if you’re a smoker, or if you’re on any medication. 

It also depends on the type of supplement you take. Immediate-release melatonin kicks in faster and can last less time than extended-release melatonin.  

We’ve covered more on how long melatonin lasts here. 

How Long Should You Take Melatonin For?

There’s no set time limit on how long you should take melatonin for. If you’re using melatonin to adjust to jet lag, a new shift work schedule, or a new sleep schedule, take the sleep aid until you’re adjusted. 

Some experts, like the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, recommend taking melatonin for jet lag for a maximum of five days. 

If you’re taking melatonin for sleep issues or a circadian rhythm disorder like delayed sleep phase disorder, your healthcare professional will be able to tell you how long to take it for. 

Melatonin may not work long-term. One study found participants taking melatonin saw sleep improvements after taking the supplements for three months, but not after taking them for a year. But these participants did have a health condition, though, so more research is needed.

While melatonin appears safe for short-term use, there are no studies on the safety of melatonin in the long run. So we don’t recommend taking melatonin every night to fall asleep. 

What Are the Side Effects of Melatonin?

The common side effects of melatonin supplements include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea 
  • Dizziness
  • Morning tiredness 
  • Daytime sleepiness  
  • Impaired morning cognition (a 2023 study found young adults had lower morning cognition after taking melatonin the night before)

Expert tip: Melatonin can make you feel sleepy the next day if you’ve taken a high dose close to bedtime. If this happens, try taking a smaller dose.

Less common possible side effects include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain 
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Allergic reactions

Melatonin isn’t considered addictive. But taking high doses can increase the odds of side effects. We’ve how much melatonin you should take here. 

Heads-up: Melatonin can cause serious health issues in children. Seek medical advice before giving your child a melatonin supplement. The use of melatonin is on the rise and a 2023 study found calls for pediatric melatonin ingestions to US Poison Control Centers increased by 530% from 2012 to 2021. They were linked to over 4,000 hospitalizations and two deaths.  

How to Boost Your Natural Melatonin Levels?

To boost your natural melatonin levels, improve your sleep hygiene. The key habits to focus on are getting light first thing in the morning and during the day, and avoiding it in the evening and at night. 

With good sleep hygiene habits, your brain can make all the melatonin you need to fall asleep. This way, you don’t have to worry about melatonin supplement timings. 

And good sleep hygiene is important if you are taking melatonin, too. After all, you don’t want bright lights in the run-up to bedtime to cancel out the effects of your supplements. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get natural light first thing: Aim to get out in sunlight for at least 10 minutes as soon as possible after waking up. Make that 15 to 20 minutes if it’s cloudy or you’re getting light through a window. Light suppresses melatonin and boosts serotonin. About 12 hours later, this serotonin will be converted into melatonin to prime your body for sleep again. 
  • Get natural light throughout the day: The more light exposure you get during the day, the less sensitive you’ll be to it in the evenings. Make a habit of going out for walks, exercising outside, and working by a window if possible. 
  • Dim the lights in the evening: To keep melatonin production high in the evenings, dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed. Research shows exposure to room light before bed suppresses melatonin production and shortens production duration by about 90 minutes. 
  • Make your bedroom dark: Use blackout curtains and wear an eye mask. If you wake up during the night to use the bathroom, keep the lights off or as low as possible. The same research above found exposure to room light during the hours of sleep suppressed melatonin by more than 50%. 
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime: Research shows even a moderate dose of alcohol one hour before bed can reduce melatonin production. We recommend avoiding alcohol three to four hours before bed to stop it from disrupting your sleep.

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day. And the app can act as a safer alternative to melatonin supplements

As well as getting personalized sleep hygiene reminders, you can use RISE to check when your body’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. We call this your Melatonin Window. Try heading to bed during this roughly one-hour window of time to fall asleep more easily. 

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window
The RISE app can tell you the best time to go to bed.

Good sleep hygiene can help you get enough sleep, or in scientific terms, meet your sleep need. Your sleep need is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night. RISE can work out your sleep down to the minute using a year’s worth of your phone use behavior and sleep science algorithms.

You might be surprised by the result. Among 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, 48% need eight hours of sleep or more a night. 

Among 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, 48% need eight hours of sleep or more a night. 
The RISE app can work out how much sleep you need.


RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep need here, set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here, and set up their take melatonin supplements reminder here.

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When Should You Not Use Melatonin?

You should not use melatonin every night to fall asleep. And you should speak to your healthcare provider before taking it if you’re: 

  • Pregnant 
  • Breastfeeding 
  • A transplant recipient 
  • Taking medication like epilepsy drugs, blood thinners, or immunosuppressants
  • Taking oral contraceptives 
  • Diagnosed with a health condition like diabetes, depression, or high blood pressure

Take Melatonin at the Right Time for You 

Melatonin can help you shift the timing of your circadian rhythm to sleep earlier or later, but you need to take the supplements at the right time. 

Take melatonin four to five hours before you want to feel sleepy if you want to bring your sleep-wake cycle forward. And take them at your usual wake-up time if you want to push your sleep-wake cycle back. 

Taking melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before bed may help you fall asleep at bedtime, but it’s also not that effective when taken in the evenings like a traditional sleep aid. 

The RISE app can tell you the ideal time to take melatonin supplements to sleep earlier. Plus, RISE can tell you when your natural melatonin production rate will be at its highest and guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get better sleep, with or without melatonin.  

Don’t just take our word for it — 80% of RISE users say they get more sleep within five days of using the app.

Summary FAQs

How long before bed should you take melatonin?

You should take melatonin about four to five hours before bed to sleep earlier or take it in the morning to sleep later. You can take melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before bed to sleep at bedtime, but because it’s not primarily a sleep aid, it’s not as effective at this time.

How long does melatonin take to work?

It can take 15 minutes to 3.5 hours for melatonin to work and reach peak levels in your system. Melatonin doesn’t knock you out, though, it works best when used to change the timing of your circadian rhythm. Taking it in the morning pushes back your circadian rhythm, and taking it in the afternoon or evening brings it forward.

Best time to take melatonin?

The best time to take melatonin is about four to five hours before the time you want to sleep if you want to fall asleep earlier than usual. If you want to fall asleep later than usual, the best time to take melatonin is at your usual wake-up time. You can take melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before bed to sleep at bedtime, but because it’s not primarily a sleep aid, it’s not as effective at this time.

How long after taking melatonin will I fall asleep?

How long it takes you to fall asleep after taking melatonin will depend on when you took it. If you take it before bed, you may fall asleep within 30 to 60 minutes, but it’s not as effective when taken in the evening as a traditional sleep aid. When taken in the afternoon or evening, you may fall asleep four to five hours after taking melatonin. And if you take it in the morning, you may fall asleep later than usual.

Does melatonin work immediately?

No, melatonin doesn’t work immediately. It works best when you use it to change the timing of your circadian rhythm, rather than taking it before bed to sleep. Take melatonin four to five hours before the time you want to sleep if you want to sleep earlier, and take it at your usual wake-up time if you want to sleep later than usual.

Does melatonin work the first night?

Melatonin should work the first night if you take it at the right time. Take melatonin four to five hours before bed to feel sleepy earlier or at your usual wake-up time to feel sleepy later. If it doesn’t work for you, make sure you’re keeping the lights low in the run-up to bedtime as this can reduce natural melatonin levels.

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