Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Benefits & Side Effects

Melatonin is most effective in treating circadian rhythm sleep disorders. This type of sleep disorder is related to the timing of when you sleep or are awake. The hormone can be used to trick your brain into believing its nighttime and produce a shift in the timing of your sleep.

Many people use melatonin to self-medicate for insomnia. There is only limited evidence that supports use of melatonin in insomnia. Your board certified sleep physician will instead recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a treatment for long-term insomnia, or medications in the short term.

Melatonin for Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Taking melatonin in the morning generally shifts your circadian rhythms later. Likewise, taking melatonin in the evening will make you more prone to going to sleep earlier.

Melatonin may be beneficial in the treatment of the following circadian sleep disorders:

Jet Lag

Research strongly suggests that melatonin is effective in reducing the symptoms of jet lag and improving your sleep shortly after you cross multiple time zones. Physicians recommend using melatonin several hours before your intended bedtime, beginning before the start of your trip and continuing for a few days after your arrival. Doses of 0.5 to 5 mg may be effective for minimizing the effects of jet lag.

Shift Work

Melatonin may help improve sleep quality and duration for some night shift workers. The supplement should be taken after the end of your shift, prior to your intended bedtime. About 2mg to 3 mg may be effective for shift workers. Melatonin should not be taken before your drive home.

Delayed Sleep Phase

Delayed sleep phase disorder occurs when the timing of your circadian rhythms is delayed by two or more hours and you regularly go to bed late at night and wake up late in the morning. Taking melatonin may help you go to sleep earlier. Physicians recommend

Melatonin may also be helpful for other circadian rhythm sleep disorders including advanced sleep phase disorder, free-running type or irregular sleep-wake rhythm.

Dosage & Side Effects

Researchers have not yet determined which dose of melatonin is most effective. Melatonin has been studied at doses ranging from 0.3 mg to 10 mg. It is possible for a low dose to work better than a high dose. A small “physiological dose” of about 0.3 mg closely resembles the level of your body’s natural melatonin production. Larger doses of melatonin cause the melatonin in your blood to peak at a much higher level.

Studies show that timing may be more important than dose. The most effective time to take melatonin is different for everyone and can vary depending on your sleep problem. In certain cases, melatonin may be even more effective when used as part of a treatment plan that also includes bright light therapy. Bright light therapy involves exposure to intense but safe amounts of bright light at the beginning of the day to signal to your body that it is time to be awake.

No serious side effects have been linked to melatonin use. The effects of long-term use have not been studied and are not known. Melatonin may be unsafe when combined with some medications including those prescribed for mental health disorders.

Talk to your doctor before beginning melatonin use. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, a board certified sleep physician can determine what treatment is right for you. 

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