Have you ever found yourself dreading going to bed as you worry you’ll be awake, tossing and turning for hours? In times like these, sleep aids like melatonin are all too tempting. But how many milligrams of melatonin should you take exactly?
Surprisingly, our answer (most of the time) is none. Your body can actually make all the melatonin you need for a good night’s sleep, you just need to follow a few simple behaviors to make sure it can.
However, there are times where melatonin supplements can come in handy. In this post, we’ll dive into what those times are and how many mg of melatonin you should take to help you get the sleep you need. Plus, we’ll cover ways you can boost your body’s own supply of melatonin, so you don’t need to rely on supplements long term.
Before we dive into the amount you should take, it’s useful to understand what exactly melatonin does.
Melatonin is a hormone your body makes naturally to help you sleep. It’s secreted by the pineal gland in your brain roughly two hours before your biological bedtime as long as your environment is sufficiently dimly lit. This moment is called the dim light melatonin onset (DLMO).
Melatonin levels start rising as you get closer to bedtime, and the hormone works to lower your core body temperature, blood pressure, stress hormones, and alertness levels, priming your body for sleep. Come morning, your brain stops producing melatonin, making you feel more alert and ready to start the day.
However, melatonin can easily be thrown off by light exposure. It needs to be dim enough in the evening for melatonin production to start, and bright light will suppress it. This is useful in the mornings when you want to feel awake, but not so useful before bed — think when you’re watching TV or scrolling social media — when blue light can impact your melatonin levels, making it harder for you to fall asleep when you want to.
Melatonin supplements are made in a lab or from animal glands and are sold as pills, gummies, and even sprays. When you take them, they trick your brain into thinking it’s sunset. This means it will start winding down for bed and you’ll feel drowsy and ready for sleep anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours later. They’re proven to be effective, safe for short-term use, they're not addictive, and there’s no risk of melatonin overdose in adults.
Sounds great, right? But melatonin supplements, while better than traditional prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills, still come with their problems. There’s limited research into the long-term safety of them and side effects of melatonin range from headaches and dizziness to low blood pressure and depression, as well as drowsiness when you don’t want it, like during the day. You can find out more about the safety of melatonin here.
Melatonin supplements aren’t recommended as a long-term solution to sleep problems, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is currently recommending those with insomnia avoid it while it further investigates how safe the supplement is. So, if you have a sleep disorder or more serious sleep issues, speak with a healthcare professional to see if melatonin is a suitable treatment option for you.
However, if you’re a normal sleeper with no medical conditions, the use of melatonin can help you fall asleep when your body isn’t producing the hormone. That’s because they act as a chronobiotic, or something that can move your circadian rhythm — your internal body clock that runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle.
This is useful when:
Even in these three cases, melatonin is still recommended as a short-term use only. For example, you should take it until you’re adjusted to your new time zone or sleep schedule.
If you do decide to try melatonin supplements, we recommend Thorne and USP tested. Plus, the RISE app can tell you when exactly to take melatonin supplements to help you fall asleep at your desired bedtime.
If you’ve decided to try melatonin, it’s time to work out how much of it you should take. Finding the ideal melatonin dose for you is easier said than done, though.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies melatonin as a dietary supplement, so there aren’t any strict dosage guidelines and the amount of melatonin in supplements can vary widely. In fact, even the scientific literature on melatonin concludes the optimum dose still needs to be clarified.
If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, taking prescription medications, or have a health condition, seek medical advice to find out if melatonin is safe for you and, if so, the ideal melatonin dosage for you.
Here are some guidelines to help you decide how much melatonin to take:
One study found doses of 0.5 mg and 5 mg worked almost the same, although people fell asleep faster with the higher dose. It also found doses of melatonin above 5 mg didn’t appear to be any more effective.
The authors of the study, Andrew Herxheimer and Keith J. Petrie, wrote:
“Doses between 0.5 mg and 5 mg appear to be similarly effective, apart from the greater hypnotic effect of higher doses. For many people 5 mg may be a higher dose than necessary: 2 or 3 mg may therefore be preferable to start with.”
How many mg of melatonin you take for jetlag will all depend on where exactly you’re going. If you’re trying to fall asleep earlier after flying east, you’ll need a larger dose, whereas if you’re flying west and want to stay up later, you’ll need much less.
Here’s what research suggests is the ideal dosage of melatonin:
And it depends on how much you’re trying to adjust your sleep schedule by. One study found 5 mg taken in the afternoon left people feeling sleepier about 1.5 hours earlier than usual, whereas 0.5 mg and even 0.05 mg doses left people feeling sleepier less than an hour earlier.
It’s also recommended to maintain good sleep hygiene as well, including being strategic with light exposure (more on this soon).
If you work shifts, you may suddenly find yourself having to sleep in the day and be awake for work at night. Melatonin may help make this switch easier.
Shift workers may want to look into alternative options, though. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says studies on the supplement with night shift workers are small and the results are inconclusive. Light therapy may be more effective.
One study found 5 mg of melatonin helped nurses fall asleep after working night shifts. The melatonin decreased sleep onset latency, or how long it takes to fall asleep, by 16 minutes. The nurses also said melatonin increased their sleep quality, although sleep excerpts don’t agree on a definition for sleep quality yet.
This study was done after working night shifts, however. If you do decide to try melatonin, start with a low dose to make sure you don’t feel the sleepiness effects during your shift.
Research shows 0.3 mg to 5 mg of melatonin can increase total sleep time when people are trying to sleep out of sync with their circadian rhythms, or when their bodies aren’t naturally producing melatonin, like during the day.
If you’re trying to reset your sleep schedule, melatonin supplements may help you make it happen, and you may not need a lot of it.
Research suggests 1 mg of melatonin may be effective at shifting your sleep-wake cycle. Smaller doses earlier in the day can help to push back your sleep schedule (for extreme early birds trying to sleep later) and larger doses four to eight hours before your DLMO can help bring your bedtime forward (for night owls).
As you can see, melatonin can be useful in a few cases, but it shouldn’t be a go-to sleep aid to help you sleep every night. Luckily, there are ways you can harness your body’s natural melatonin instead. Here’s what to do.
Sleep hygiene is the name for the daily habits and behaviors you can do to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night. They don’t just take place before bed though — these habits begin the moment you wake up.
The most important habit of all is being careful about your light exposure. When compared to dim light (<3 lux), research shows exposure to room light (<200 lux) before bed causes melatonin to be produced later and for about 90 minutes less time in total. And exposure to room light during usual sleep hours suppresses melatonin by more than 50%.
Here’s how to boost your natural melatonin production for better sleep:
You can find out more about sleep hygiene here. RISE can help you keep on top of all these habits by reminding you when to do 20+ sleep-boosting behaviors.
There is a time of night when your brain will be making the most melatonin it will all night. In the RISE app, we call this your Melatonin Window. If you go to sleep during this roughly one-hour window, you may find it much easier to fall and stay asleep all night.
The timing of this window can change every night depending on your circadian rhythm, but by keeping a consistent sleep schedule and keeping your sleep hygiene on point, you can reduce how much this happens.
Melatonin supplements are useful in rare occasions — like when battling jetlag or adjusting to a new sleep schedule. In these cases, it’s best to start with a lower dose of 5mg or less.
Most of the time, however, you don’t need any melatonin at all. Boost your brain's own supply of the hormone by maintaining excellent sleep hygiene and syncing up your sleep schedule with your circadian rhythm.
RISE can make those things easy by reminding you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors, and predicting the timing of your circadian rhythm each day. With a few lifestyle tweaks, you may find yourself drifting off easier, getting the sleep you need each night, and having more energy each day, all without melatonin supplements at all.
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