Is melatonin an effective insomnia cure?

by Martin Reed on 29 July 2010 in insomnia cures

There’s a lot of talk about melatonin as an insomnia remedy – but just how effective is it? We want to cover this issue today, with help from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Here are the facts:

  • Up to 1mg of melatonin may help certain people with insomnia, but the effects are mild.
  • Melatonin may help you fall asleep around 7 minutes faster than normal.
  • Melatonin wears off quickly, so it won’t help you stay asleep.
  • Strong evidence suggests that melatonin can reduce symptoms of jet lag – but there is no recommended dose.
  • If you suffer from shift worker disorder, melatonin is most effective when taken early in the day before going to bed.
  • If you suffer from delayed sleep phase disorder (you go to bed and wake up later than ‘most people’), melatonin is most effective when taken in the afternoon or evening.
  • Melatonin supplements appear to be safe, but the long term effects of melatonin are unknown.

Here’s what we take away from all those facts:

Melatonin may help you fall asleep a little faster than you otherwise would – but it won’t help you stay asleep. The supplement can be effective when treating temporary sleep disruption such as jet lag but its effectiveness as an insomnia cure is mild at best.

What do you think? Please share your experience with melatonin in the comments section below. Let’s make this page a really valuable resource for all insomniacs.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Caers July 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm

As someone who has suffered with chronic insomnia since I was a baby, and throughout my whole life, I feel like I’ve tried just about everything. The course of it still isn’t known, and any medications that work for me are almost as bad as the disorder itself.
Melatonin did help me fall asleep quicker, yes. However, my main problem is that I wake constantly in the night, and rarely sleep more than an hour or two in a row (before my current medication, which makes me sleep about 15 hours a day and I’m still tired when I’m awake, so it’s not like it’s that great). Melatonin did nothing to help me stay asleep, and even when I tried half a pill I was left groggy and dragging the next day.
If melatonin works for some people, that’s great. But it didn’t work for me.

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seenafterscene July 29, 2010 at 7:59 pm

I’ve spoken about this before on Insomnia Land, but I want to give fair warning to people using Melatonin. Both my Mother & I tried this “natural” remedy. What they don’t tell you is that because your body produces melatonin naturally (which is the whole argument for taking it selectively as a supplement)…if you take it for a longer period of time, your body (as with any other comparable ingestant) will build up a tolerance. Melatonin is great short-term & particularly known for helping people to adjust to international travel.

Fair warning though, both my Mom (she also has horrible insomnia, among other things) and I discovered the hard way, and it makes sense, is that if you use it continually (long-term) supplement your body with Melatonin, your body will inherently produce less melatonin and come to RELY on your pill form.

Melatonin is a wonder supplement in many ways, I still would suggest it to people, but I would caution people to use it short-term. If your body starts “expecting” it and inevitable produces less by itself, you will become dependent on Melatonin, just like Valium, Ambien, or any other sleeping aid.

It’s PERFECT for short-term use, but please, everyone, be careful about using it habitually. Supplements and herbals get free reign (not very well regulated) and a lot of times people don’t realize the risks of using such supplements.

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Mike Hooker August 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I tried melatonin for a week after a customer recommended it. It gave me a constant headache. It also threw me into a deep depression where thoughts of suicide streamed through my head non-stop–I knew something was wrong. After a few days I realized the pain in my head and my mental condition normally weren’t like that and the only thing different was the melatonin. So I thought I’d better stop taking it to see if it was the cause.

After I stopped, my headache left and my depression lifted. My customer made melatonin sound like the be-all and cure-all for everyone’s insomnia. Like Caers, didn’t work for me, either.

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Martin Reed August 6, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Thanks for all the comments – your feedback is really appreciated by me and all readers of this post.

Let’s keep this one open for comments indefinitely. If you are reading this and haven’t thrown in your opinion or experience with melatonin, please add to the discussion.

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csh6605 August 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I never had insomnia, I would just take melatonin to help me fall asleep quickly in the evenings. I think I built up a tolerance to it or my body slowed down production. Is there a withdrawal period that takes a few weeks for my body to return to normal?

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Martin Reed August 24, 2010 at 6:25 pm

I’m not a doctor but after doing some quick research it appears that there is some evidence of the body developing a tolerance to melatonin if it’s used too frequently and in large doses.

As for whether or not there’s a withdrawal period – I’m not sure. That’s probably a question best answered by your doctor.

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A. Marina Fournier November 15, 2010 at 8:54 pm

My son used to be on Seroquel, which is a sedative/as sedating qualities. He depended on it to get him to sleep–never missed his evening meds. Now that he’s not on it, he will take a 3mg tablet if he’s having problems getting to sleep.

I will caution him about overuse.

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Brittany February 8, 2011 at 3:40 pm

A. Marina Fournier, I took seroquel for a while, I don’t think they make a 3mg tablet. I think it starts out at 25mg, I was taking 200mg I think when I was on it for bipolar.

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A. Marina Fournier February 8, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Oops! I wasn’t very clear, was I? 3mg is the melatonin he takes, not the Seroquel.

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Brittany February 8, 2011 at 11:26 pm

OH ok :) I might try melatonin. It never worked for me before but I think I read somewhere that you have to take it regularly(??) I only tried it for a few days, if that but it was mixed in with a few other herbs and the pill did nothing for me unfortunately.

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A. Marina Fournier February 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Melatonin did nothing for me, either, ages ago.

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ezgeez April 1, 2012 at 10:18 am

I’d like to chime in with Mike Hooker above; melatonin had a *very* pronounced depressive effect on me. I have been depressed before and I could tell that this was not part of me. My mood lifted considerably when I discontinued it.

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Alley K April 8, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I am a pre-menopausal woman (48) and started using melatonin about 1 year ago when medication prescribed for allergies (namely steroids) began disturbing my sleep. I started with 1mg/night, then increased to 3 mg/night about 6 months ago. It was effective in getting me to sleep faster and seemed to facilitate more deep/recuperative sleep. I did not always sleep through the night, but definitely slept better. I did not experience any of the depressive symptoms other posters have reported.

Out of concern that I could become dependent on it, I stopped using melatonin a couple of days ago. So far it hasn’t been pretty: it takes me a couple of hours to get to sleep, and then I can’t seem to stay out for more than 1 hour at a stretch before waking up and staying awake for another 2 hours before returning to sleep. I hate it, but then again it’s only been a couple of days. Will keep you posted.

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Martin Reed April 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience – and please do keep us posted on how you get on.

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