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Melatonin for insomnia: What is it? Is it safe? Does it work?

The last time I gave a general overview of melatonin for insomnia was almost two years ago, so I figured it was time for an update - particularly since I see so many people discussing melatonin when I'm logged into the Insomnia Land twitter account.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced in our brains that triggers drowsiness and helps regulate our body clock. During the day, we naturally have little to no melatonin in our bloodstream. As evening approaches, our brains trigger melatonin production to prepare us for sleep. In technical speak, the melatonin attaches itself to two melatonin receptors - MT1 and MT2. The receptors then suppress the signal that typically keeps us awake and alert during the day.

Melatonin supplements for insomnia

Some insomniacs choose to take melatonin supplements in order to help them sleep. Studies have shown that those who take melatonin supplements do indeed end up with a higher concentration of melatonin in their bloodstreams. The typical advice is to take the supplement around an hour before you intend to go to bed.

It's thought that supplements may be beneficial to those who produce less melatonin than the average person, produce it too late in the day or are less sensitive to the hormone. Our bodies naturally produce less melatonin as we age, so supplements may be particularly helpful to older insomniacs.

How effective are melatonin supplements for insomnia?

Trials have found melatonin can be an effective sleep aid but there are doubts about whether it's an effective insomnia treatment.

We still don't have a consensus when it comes to a recommended dose. One study found melatonin supplements to improve sleep with a range of dosages from 0.1 mg to 80 mg. A number of studies (see our source link for specific details) suggest a dose of 0.3 mg should be effective at improving sleep.

Studies have found that melatonin can improve sleep duration and sleep quality. Test subjects often report improvements in daytime alertness the day after taking melatonin.

Is melatonin safe?

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of the US Department of Health and Human Services regards melatonin as 'relatively safe' when taken over the short term.

The FDA is a little more cautious, having concerns that melatonin supplements may increase blood glucose, lower insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, affect reproductive hormones and even influence your risk for epileptic seizures - even at doses of under 1 mg per day.


It's worth reminding readers that melatonin is only available on prescription in many countries - so it certainly shouldn't be  considered risk-free. As always, do your research and then speak with your doctor before making any decisions.

Source: Nutritional Outlook

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Last updated: June 5, 2013

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

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