Why Doesn't Melatonin Work for Me? We Asked a Sleep Doctor

Melatonin may not work for you because you’re taking it at the wrong time, you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, or you’re expecting it to work straight away.
Published
2023-08-18
19 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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Why Doesn’t Melatonin Work for Me? 

  • Melatonin may not work for you if you’re taking it at the wrong time, you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you’re stressed, or you’re expecting it to make you fall asleep straight away. 
  • The RISE app can tell you the best time to take melatonin supplements and guide you through sleep hygiene habits to make them more effective. 
  • Plus, these habits can help you fall and stay asleep without relying on melatonin.

You pop a melatonin supplement, snuggle into the covers, and wait for sleep. But…nothing happens. 

You find yourself wide awake, just like every other night. And the only thing more frustrating than struggling to sleep is taking a so-called sleep supplement and still struggling. 

But melatonin isn’t like a traditional sleep aid, and there are many things that get in the way of it working. 

Below, we’ve covered why melatonin may not work for you. Plus, we’ve explained how the RISE app can help you make sure melatonin is effective and help you fall asleep without melatonin altogether. 

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“Melatonin is very different from a typical sleep aid. It won’t force your body to sleep straight away. To make melatonin work, you need to get the timing, the dose, and your sleep habits, like avoiding late-night light exposure, just right.”

Rise Science Sleep Advisor and Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

Why Doesn’t Melatonin Work for Me?

Melatonin might not work for you if you’re taking it at the wrong time, you’re expecting it to work like a traditional sleep aid, you’ve got poor sleep hygiene or an irregular sleep schedule, you’re stressed, or you’ve got a sleep disorder. 

Here’s more on those reasons and other factors that could be to blame.  

1. You’re Taking Melatonin at the Wrong Time 

Timing is everything when it comes to melatonin. It won’t make you feel sleepy right away, so if you’re taking melatonin seconds before crawling into bed, it likely won’t work for you. 

It can take melatonin 15 minutes to 3.5 hours to kick in and reach peak levels in your system. And when you take it will change how it affects your sleep. 

In general, it’s recommended you take melatonin: 

  • 30 to 60 minutes before bed to fall asleep 
  • Four to five hours before bed to fall asleep earlier than usual 
  • At your usual wake-up time to fall asleep later than usual 

Heads-up: Melatonin works best when your natural levels are low, i.e. during the day. If you take it before bed, it may not be as effective. You might only get a few more minutes of sleep (which may just be the placebo effect at work).

The type of supplement you take also makes a difference. Slow-release or extended-release supplements, for example, take longer to work than fast-release or immediate-release supplements. If you feel like melatonin isn’t working for you, check which type of supplement you’re taking.

We’ve covered more on when to take melatonin before bed here. 

2. You’re Comparing Melatonin to Other Sleep Aids 

Just to hammer it home, melatonin doesn’t knock you out in the same way traditional sleep aids can. If you’re popping a melatonin supplement and expecting to feel sleepy right away — like you do with some prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids — it’s easy to feel like it isn’t working for you. 

Melatonin isn’t a sedative, though, it’s a hormone. 

Melatonin works best as a chronobiotic, or something that can change the timing of your circadian rhythm (your roughly 24-hour internal clock). 

This means melatonin can be effective when taking it to: 

But it may not be effective to help you fall asleep at your regular bedtime or wake up less often throughout the night. 

We all wake up once or twice in the middle of the night, but traditional sleep aids can mean you don’t remember these awakenings. You might remember them when taking melatonin and come to the conclusion the supplement isn’t working for you. 

Plus, melatonin may be more effective at helping you fall asleep than stay asleep, so if you’re taking it to reduce nighttime awakenings, it may not work for you. 

3. You’ve Got Poor Sleep Hygiene 

Sleep hygiene is the name for the daily behaviors you can do to fall and stay asleep. If you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you may struggle to sleep. And this can happen even if you’ve popped a melatonin supplement.

One key factor that can sabotage melatonin is light exposure. 

Research shows exposure to room light in the run-up to bedtime can shorten and delay natural melatonin production. So if you spend the evening under bright overhead lighting and in front of screens, your natural levels of melatonin may be artificially lower, which can cancel out any benefits from the supplement you’ve taken. 

Avoiding alcohol before bed is another key sleep hygiene habit. Research shows a moderate amount of alcohol one hour before bed can reduce melatonin production. So this too may make a melatonin supplement ineffective for you.

There are also other poor sleep hygiene habits that can mess with your sleep, even after taking melatonin. These include drinking coffee too late in the day, eating a large meal before bed, and your bedroom being too warm

Expert tip: The RISE app guides you through 20+ good sleep hygiene habits each day. You’ll have an easier time falling and staying asleep, whether you’re taking melatonin or not. More on these habits soon. 

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4. You’ve Got an Irregular Sleep Schedule 

Your body thrives on consistency. If you wake up and go to sleep at odd times throughout the week, you’ll have a harder time falling asleep when you want to each night. And this can happen even if you’ve taken melatonin. 

Shift workers are especially vulnerable to irregular sleep patterns, and it’s not clear if melatonin supplements can work for them. 

But even those of us with regular work hours can fall prey to an irregular sleep schedule. Research shows about 87% of us have an irregular sleep schedule and go to bed at least two hours later on weekends.  

5. You’re Stressed

Stress and anxiety can easily keep you up at night. In fact, RISE users say it’s the biggest barrier stopping them from getting a good night’s sleep. 

If you’re stressed — either from work, family demands, or about melatonin not working for you — this stress could be keeping you awake. 

In fact, you could even be thinking yourself out of melatonin working. When you try to control sleep this is known as sleep effort. And sleep effort can cause and perpetuate insomnia

So, counterintuitively, the more you try to control your sleep, the less likely you are to fall asleep easily. 

Other things about melatonin may be stressing you out and stopping it from working, including worries about how much melatonin is too much or whether melatonin is addictive or not. 

6. You’re Taking a Poor Quality Supplement 

Melatonin is considered a dietary supplement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it isn’t tightly regulated. This means, unfortunately, there are a lot of poor-quality supplements on the market. 

A 2017 study found that the amount of melatonin in supplements can be very different from what’s listed on the label. Sixteen brands were tested and the levels of melatonin ranged from 83% less to 478% more than the amount advertised on the label. 

If melatonin isn’t working for you, there’s a chance you’re taking a dud. 

7. You’ve Been Taking Melatonin for a While 

It’s not recommended you take melatonin every night to fall asleep. 

Research suggests taking melatonin supplements won’t cause your body to stop making it naturally. But more research is needed to find out if there are any other long-term side effects of melatonin. 

But that doesn’t mean melatonin will always work for you. One study found melatonin improved people’s sleep within the first three months of taking it — but it wasn’t effective after 12 months. This study was done in participants with a health condition, though, so more research on healthy adults is needed. 

Some experts say you may develop a tolerance to melatonin, so you may need to take more and more to feel the same effects. Not all research agrees with this theory, though. As with everything to do with melatonin, more research needs to be done. 

8. You’re Young

As we age, our bodies produce less melatonin. That means supplements can top up our natural levels and be more effective in helping older people sleep

For younger people, your melatonin levels may already be healthy and high at night, so supplements have less of an impact. 

Even when age doesn’t come into it, melatonin affects us all differently. So what works for your partner or friends may not work for you. 

Some research even states melatonin may not help you prevent jet lag, cure insomnia, adjust to shift work, or fall asleep and stay asleep — and you’re probably taking it for one of these reasons.

9. You’ve Got a Sleep Disorder or Medical Condition 

A sleep disorder or medical condition could be messing with your sleep and melatonin may not be an effective treatment. 

One meta-analysis states melatonin may not be effective in treating sleep disorders with short-term use. 

And the American Academy of Sleep Medicine doesn’t recommend melatonin as a treatment for insomnia. 

But some research disagrees. One paper says melatonin could be effective for treating primary sleep disorders (sleep disorders not caused by a medical condition), but not as effective as other treatments. 

And research from 2019 found that melatonin may work for secondary sleep disorders, or sleep disorders that are caused by a medical condition — like insomnia caused by depression or arthritis. 

Melatonin may also be effective for those with a circadian rhythm disorder, like delayed sleep phase disorder. 

Heads-up: People who are pregnant or breastfeeding, transplant recipients, taking medication, or have certain conditions — like diabetes, high blood pressure, seizure disorders, bleeding disorders, or depression — should speak to a doctor before taking melatonin supplements.

10. You’re Not Taking Enough Melatonin 

If you’re taking melatonin at the right time, have good sleep hygiene, and don’t have a sleep disorder or health issue, and melatonin still doesn’t work for you, you may not be taking enough of it. 

Most of us won’t have this problem, however. You can buy melatonin supplements in large doses, but most experts recommend taking around 0.5 milligrams or, at most, 3 milligrams. 

Most clinical trials only use 2 mg doses, and research suggests low doses can be effective. For example, research on jet lag shows a 0.5 mg dose of melatonin can be just as effective as a 5 mg dose at shifting your circadian rhythm. Doses above 5 mg didn’t appear to be any more effective.

That’s not a one-off study. Other research shows a small 0.5 mg dose of melatonin is enough to shift your circadian rhythm earlier, if that’s what you’re going for.

If you’re taking a very small dose of melatonin and it doesn’t work, try taking a slightly larger dose.

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

11. You’re Expecting it to Make a Difference to How You Feel the Next Day 

If you wake up feeling groggy and battle through the day with low energy, you might assume melatonin isn’t working for you. But these symptoms may not be something melatonin can fix. 

Morning grogginess is natural. It’s called sleep inertia. If you haven’t had enough sleep, it’ll feel worse, but most of us will feel a little sleepy when we first wake up. 

And low energy can be caused by not getting enough sleep at night or having social jet lag, or an irregular sleep schedule. Taking a melatonin supplement isn’t going to boost your next-day energy levels and performance if you’re not giving your body enough time to sleep or you're sleeping at odd times. 

Finally, melatonin side effects can be similar to the effects of sleep deprivation — think headaches and daytime drowsiness. You might be getting enough sleep, but feel side effects of the melatonin and come to the conclusion it isn’t working for you. 

Expert tip: For less grogginess and more energy, keep an eye on your sleep debt. This is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s compared to your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need. 

The lower your sleep debt, the better you’re going to feel and function each day.

RISE can work out how much sleep you need and whether you’re carrying any sleep debt. 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep debt you have.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here. 

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What to Do if Melatonin Doesn’t Work for You?

If melatonin doesn’t work for you, try improving your sleep hygiene, taking it at the right time, lowering your stress, and speaking to your healthcare provider. 

Here’s more on those steps and other key advice: 

  • Improve your sleep hygiene: Make sure late-night light and alcohol don’t reduce your melatonin levels. Dim the lights about 90 minutes before bedtime, put on blue-light blocking glasses, and avoid alcohol three to four hours before bed. Get out in daylight more during the day — this can make you less sensitive to evening light. And make sure other bad habits (like late-afternoon caffeine or pre-bed exercise) don’t keep you awake. RISE can walk you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day. 
  • Take melatonin at the right time: Take it 30 to 60 minutes before bed to fall asleep (although, remember it’s not as effective when used like this), four to five hours before bed when you want to fall asleep earlier, and at your usual wake-up time when you want to fall asleep later. RISE can tell you the best time to take melatonin if you’re trying to sleep earlier. 
  • Lower your stress: Try doing a relaxing bedtime routine in the hour or so before bed. Read, listen to music, do yoga, journal — and, although it’s easier said than done, try not to worry about whether melatonin will work for you tonight or not. 
  • Keep a consistent sleep pattern: Try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. And yes, that includes weekends. If you need to lay in to get some extra shut-eye, keep this to an hour or so maximum. 
  • Take high-quality supplements: We recommend Thorne and USP tested.
  • Speak to your healthcare provider: Your doctor or a sleep expert can rule out sleep issues, like chronic insomnia and sleep apnea, and medical conditions that could be disrupting your sleep. They can recommend the best treatment options for you. For example, treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), sleep restriction, and stimulus control can help those with insomnia, and may be more effective than trying to self-treat with melatonin. 
RISE app screenshot reminding you when to take melatonin suppements
The RISE app can tell you when to take melatonin to make it work best.

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

How to Fall Asleep Without Melatonin?

Fall asleep without melatonin by improving your sleep hygiene. With good sleep hygiene, your brain can make enough natural melatonin to help you fall asleep. 

This means you don’t have to turn to melatonin every night and you can stop worrying about why it isn’t working for you.  

Here’s what good sleep hygiene looks like: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Light in the morning resets your circadian rhythm for the day, helping you feel sleepy at bedtime. Aim for at least 10 minutes of light in the morning, or 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window.
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: About 90 minutes before bed, turn down the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses.
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol late in the day: Check RISE for when to avoid each one daily.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Set your bedroom temperature to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains and an eye mask, and wear earplugs or use a white noise machine or white noise app like RISE.

To stay on top of it all, RISE tells you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day.

RISE app screenshot showing sleep hygiene reminders
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

If melatonin doesn’t work for you, don’t panic. Sleep hygiene is proven to help you get better sleep. There are also some pros to skipping melatonin altogether. You don’t have to worry about whether it’ll work for you or when to take it, you can save yourself a few dollars, and you won’t risk potential side effects. 

Side effects range from nausea and daytime drowsiness to depression and seizures. And a 2023 study found young adults had worse cognition the morning after taking melatonin.

Night shift worker looking to fall asleep easier? Light therapy might be more effective than melatonin. 

Check RISE for Your Melatonin Window 

Beyond improving your sleep hygiene, there’s another way to harness the power of your natural melatonin. There’s a roughly one-hour window of time each evening when your body’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. In RISE, we call this your Melatonin Window. 

Head to bed during this window and you should have an easier time falling and staying asleep each night.

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

Good sleep hygiene and heading to bed during your melatonin window can help you get enough sleep each night. And this amount will look different for everyone. 

To find out how much sleep you need, turn to RISE. The app uses a year’s worth of phone use behavior and sleep science algorithms to work it out down to the minute. 

When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older, we found the median was eight hours. But almost half of those users needed eight hours or more sleep a night.

When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older, we found the median was eight hours. But almost half of those users needed eight hours or more sleep a night.
The RISE app can work out how much sleep you need.


RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here and set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window here.

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Should You Take More Melatonin if it Doesn’t Work?

If melatonin doesn’t work for you, you shouldn’t take more. 

If you take too much before bed, you may still have high levels of melatonin in your system in the morning, which can push back your circadian rhythm, meaning you might feel sleepy later than usual the next night. 

The same goes for if you take more melatonin in the middle of the night. Melatonin can last four to eight hours in your system. So you don’t want to take a middle-of-the-night melatonin, wake up groggy, and potentially disrupt your next night’s sleep.

If you’ve been taking small doses of melatonin, you could try taking a slightly higher dose the next time you take the supplement. But don’t double up on melatonin in one night, and don’t pop a supplement if you find yourself awake at 3 a.m

We’ve covered how much melatonin you should take here. 

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone your brain makes to help regulate your circadian rhythm. It’s made in the pineal gland and lowers your body temperature, blood pressure, stress hormones, and alertness to get your body ready for sleep.

When everything’s working well, melatonin levels rise in the evening in the run-up to bedtime, are high overnight, and then fall in the early morning. 

Normal melatonin production curve
Melatonin levels throughout the day and night. Source: https://sites.psu.edu/lifeitmoveson/2018/01/26/sleep-external-influences/

Your brain is prompted to make melatonin when it’s dark, and the hormone is suppressed when it’s light.

You can buy melatonin supplements, a synthetic version of the natural hormone, in pills, sprays, gummies, and patches — just to name a few types. 

These supplements are primarily used to shift the timing of your circadian rhythm earlier or later. This is why it’s useful for treating jet lag when you’ve crossed time zones or moving your sleep schedule, for shift work or when trying to become a morning person, for example. 

Beyond sleep, melatonin supplements may also help those with ADHD, high blood pressure, anxiety before surgery, or cancer. 

Learn more about what melatonin does here. 

Make (Your) Melatonin Work for You 

If melatonin doesn’t work for you, it may be because you’re taking it at the wrong time, you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you’re stressed, or you’re expecting melatonin to act like a traditional sleeping pill. 

To get the most out of melatonin, the RISE app can tell you when exactly to take it and the app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to give you the best chance of falling and staying asleep. 

If you want to skip the supplements altogether, RISE can tell you when to head to bed to harness your natural melatonin levels. 

Melatonin may not work for you, but RISE might — 80% of RISE users say they get better sleep within five days. 

Summary FAQs

Why doesn't melatonin work for me?

Melatonin may not work for you because you’re not taking it at the right time, you’re getting too much light late at night, you’ve had alcohol, you’re stressed, you’ve got an irregular sleep schedule, or a sleep disorder or medical condition causing sleep problems.

Why am I still awake after taking melatonin?

You may still be awake after taking melatonin because you took the supplement at the wrong time, you didn’t take enough, you got too much light late at night, you had alcohol, you’re stressed, you’ve got an irregular sleep schedule, or a sleep disorder or medical condition causing sleep problems.

Why can't I sleep after taking too much melatonin?

You may not be able to fall asleep after taking too much melatonin because you’ve disrupted your circadian rhythm, or body clock. When you take melatonin in the morning, you’ll feel sleepy later than usual. And if you take it right before bed, you might not feel any effects at all, but it may disrupt your next night of sleep. You may also have poor sleep hygiene, which includes getting too much light close to bedtime, drinking too much caffeine, and sleeping in a warm bedroom.

Why do I wake up every hour on melatonin?

You may wake up every hour on melatonin because you’ve disrupted your circadian rhythm by taking the supplement at the wrong time or because you’ve got poor sleep hygiene. Poor sleep hygiene includes getting light, having caffeine, alcohol, large meals, or doing intense exercise too late in the day, and sleeping in a bedroom that’s too bright, noisy, and warm.

Melatonin not working first time?

Melatonin may not work the first time if you’ve taken the supplement at the wrong time, you got too much light late at night, you had alcohol, you’re stressed, you didn’t take enough, you have an irregular sleep schedule, or a sleep disorder or medical condition causing sleep problems.

Can melatonin cause insomnia?

Melatonin may cause or perpetuate insomnia if you stress about the supplement not working, or worry about taking too much of it or taking it at the wrong time. If you take melatonin at the wrong time you may also struggle to sleep when you want to as you’ve changed the timing of your circadian rhythm, or body clock.

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