Melatonin pills can help initiate sleep, but they don’t guarantee an uninterrupted slumber. More so, melatonin can affect what happens during shuteye. “Sometimes people get vivid dreams when they’re taking melatonin, which I say to my patients, could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether it’s a nightmare or not,” says Vinh Nguyen, M.D., family medicine physician at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA.
Regardless, for many, popping a pill is the quick fix that helps them fall asleep faster.
One thing that suppresses the hormone? Light. “People are suppressing their own natural melatonin, because they’re exposing themselves to all this artificial light at night,” says Gary Levinson, M.D. with Sharp Rees-Stealy. So it’s no wonder our tech-addicted selves are turning to pills to help us get some shuteye.
How Much Melatonin Should You Take?
Because not one dosage fits all, the quantities taken for best results vary. “Melatonin is pretty excessively metabolized in the liver,” says Nguyen. “Therefore, the effective dose of melatonin can vary greatly from person to person. An older person would need a much lower dose of melatonin, in general, than a younger person, because the liver metabolism changes as we age.”
The amount of melatonin a person usually requires to get back on track is very low: between .5 milligrams and 1 milligram a night, taken two hours before bed, says Levinson, who notes that over-the-counter melatonin pills can reach dosages as high as 15 milligrams.
With any type of medication, there are possible side effects—especially when consuming large amounts. “Very high doses of melatonin can cause us to feel excessively sleepy in the daytime,” says Nguyen. “It can cause hypothermia, which is a lowering of the body temperature, and it can also cause some impairment of mental and physical performance in the short term—weighing people down and feeling a little slow the next day, in terms of exercise and energy level, and some mental slowing as well.” (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women’s Health’s 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)
But Can You Overdose On Melatonin?
Regardless of age, as sleepless as you are and as much melatonin as you take, you can’t overdose on the sleepy stuff. “It’s not going to stop your breathing, or anything like that,” says Levinson. But though melatonin alone can’t cause overdose symptoms, be careful what medicines you’re mixing together, especially with alcohol, and see your doctor before you start taking melatonin if you’re currently taking other meds.
“Melatonin mixed with alcohol can potentially cause over sedation,” saysLevinson. “This is the case with any sedative, such as Valium, Xanax, Clonazepam. These are not absolute contradictions but people need to be aware.”
Nguyen also warns: “It is bad to mix melatonin with alcohol, or any other drugs and medications that cause drowsiness. Other examples would be opiate pain medications, prescription cough syrups, and prescription sleep medications.”
This is the best way to get a better night’s sleep:
Levinson reiterates that normal amounts to use are .5 milligrams to 1 milligram per night, and some people will use up to 5 milligrams. To safely start taking melatonin, Nguyen suggests starting on low doses and building up if you feel that you need more. Expect to fall asleep more easily, however, keep in mind that staying asleep is not guaranteed. “It should be combined with good sleep hygiene,” says Levinson. “Avoiding light and computer, TV, and smartphones in bed.”
When taken, patients can expect modest improvement with sleep, says Nguyen. “The positive aspects of melatonin [are that] it is relatively safe, and non-addictive.”