Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

Find a Center
Use the following fields to locate sleep centers in your area.

Search radius:

Over the counter: will melatonin cure your sleep problems?

Filed in
  • Melatonin
  • Insomnia

Sleep Education Archive  |  Mar 26, 2008
Email   Print

Searching for a solution to their sleep problems, many adults are taking melatonin supplements as a sleep aid. Research shows that this may benefit certain people. But melatonin is no miracle cure for the sleepless.

Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced by the brain. It is considered a darkness signal for your body. Your brain releases more melatonin in the evening as it gets dark. Then in the morning as daylight increases your melatonin production drops. This helps signal to your body when it is time to be sleepy or alert.

The sale of melatonin and other dietary supplements is a major part of the U.S. nutrition industry. The Natural Products Association reports that consumers spent $22.5 billion on dietary supplements in 2006. This includes $3.8 billion on specialty supplements such as melatonin.

A study in the journal Sleep in 2007 confirms that melatonin use is widespread in the U.S. The researchers analyzed a survey of 31,044 personal interviews. Results show that 5.2 percent of the study group reported using melatonin at least once in the prior 12 months.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that melatonin supplements appear to be safe. There is no evidence of serious risks related to their use. But the long-term effects of melatonin are unknown.

In 2007 the AASM reviewed studies using melatonin to treat circadian rhythm sleep disorders. These problems involve the timing of your sleep pattern. The evidence shows that melatonin may benefit some people who suffer from jet lag, shift work or a delayed sleep phase.

Jet lag disorder occurs when you cross multiple time zones. You have trouble adjusting your sleep-wake pattern to fit the schedule of your new location.

There is strong evidence that melatonin can reduce jet lag symptoms. You can benefit by taking melatonin for a few days before and after a long trip. But the best dose to take is unclear. In one study a small dose of 0.5 mg was nearly as effective as a much larger dose of 5 mg.

The time of day when you take melatonin may be even more important than how much you take. This is critical if you have shift work disorder from working a night shift. To improve your sleep you should take melatonin early in the day before you go to bed.

The proper timing is later in the day if you have delayed sleep phase disorder. This problem occurs when you regularly go to bed and wake up much later than most people. In this case you should take melatonin in the afternoon or evening. This can help shift your sleep pattern to an earlier time.

There is less evidence that melatonin can help people with other types of sleep disorders. Some research shows that melatonin may help people who have insomnia. But the effect tends to be mild.

A 2005 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine analyzed melatonin research. It found that people with insomnia can fall asleep faster by taking melatonin. But the average benefit across all the studies was only about seven minutes per night.

The AASM reports that there are better treatments for insomnia. These include cognitive behavioral therapy and medications. In 2005 the FDA approved a new medication called “ramelteon.” Its brand name is Rozerem. This is the first sleep aid to simulate the effect of melatonin. Rozerem was approved only for people who have trouble falling asleep. Potential side effects include headaches, dizziness and nausea.

The AASM advises you to talk to your doctor before taking melatonin or any medication. Your doctor may refer you to an AASM-accredited sleep disorders center. Visit to find an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.


  1. 1 Mary 11 Jan
    Really interesting article about melatonin. Very informative
  2. 2 Beth Keyes 14 Nov
    Also; can Melathroin sometimes occasionally interfere with other meds (like Equate; or occasional Advil? (sometimes I worry I might be taking them too often; though; I saved a PDF a while back saying it can sometimes dry the throat if not careful. (& I have & do run into that; sometimes; occasionally.) I e-mailed Linda (very down-to-earth minister & counselor; I always admired her ministry; lot like my Dad.) & asked her the same effect on the same PDF; she said exercise before sleep was o.k. long as I didn't go overboard.
  3. 3 Beth Keyes 14 Nov
    To whoever it may concern: I; uhm take sleeping pills: The one called "Melathroin". Most of the time; I'm blown away how much more I been sleeping since I started taking those pills: lot more relaxed; I focus a lot more singing & signing or whatever I want to do: looking at nature & stuff in the summer; (of course; being fall now; you ain't out as much;) but uhm; I noticed (except when my stomach's doing personal procedures that I need to be polite about;) how do I stay asleep even on those nights? (One thing; I need to quit staying up at 11:30 all the time; I'm trying to cut back to either 10:30 or 9:30; just a matter of what works for me (in healing & in God's time); probably 10:30's more realistic for me.) Beth
  4. 4 JJ Flowers 23 Apr
    Almost ALL teenagers have trouble falling asleep, simply because their biological clocks are set differently than adults. (If you want to know the evolutionary purpose of this, email me and I will send it to you.) Try to accommodate him as much as possible. Encourage strenuous physical activity during the day. Let him sleep as late as possible. If only schools understood how problematic it is forcing teenagers to wake early, but if he is going to college encourage him to sign up for later starting classes. It goes away between 21 and 25 years, depending and for about thirty percent of people it never really goes away.
  5. 5 Lee 08 Feb
    My son finds it difficult to sleep. He has  always had this problembut it is even worse at 18 years.