by Rachel Stuck, RDN
Sleep struggles are common in today’s fast-paced world, and those with sleep troubles often look for medications or supplements to support sleep. Before starting any supplements, it is important to understand how the supplement works and how to use it safely and effectively.
Melatonin is a widely available natural sleep supplement. It can be beneficial in the short term, and can be especially helpful when you are changing time zones or need to adjust to a new sleep schedule. However, taking melatonin over a long term is not recommended because supplementing with melatonin can disrupt the body’s natural melatonin production. Because long-term use of supplemental melatonin can reduce the amount of melatonin the body produces naturally, it should be taken only as needed or used daily for only two to four weeks. The following steps will help you ensure you’re using melatonin effectively and appropriately.
Consult your physician to ensure that it is safe for you to start taking melatonin.
Sleep struggles can present as trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or a combination of both. Melatonin can support the body’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Assess your sleep struggles. Are they chronic, meaning that they have lasted for several months? If so, it may be appropriate for you to start taking a melatonin supplement. If your sleep issues have lasted only a few days or weeks, consider changing lifestyle habits to support good sleep.
Even if your sleep troubles have lasted for years, you should first assess habits that could be affecting your sleep. One way to prepare for successful sleep is to create an environment that will support quality sleep. Ixcela’s 12-point bedroom audit will help you get started. You may also want to practice mindfulness before bed.
Avoiding screens and alcohol before bed and going to bed at the same time every night will help you fall asleep faster. If you have trouble staying asleep, assess your water intake before bed, the darkness of your bedroom, and anything that regularly disturbs your sleep. When possible, consider using a white noise machine to combat disruptive noises.
Just 1 mg of melatonin can be beneficial; a dose that is too high can cause grogginess the next day. If you have never taken melatonin, consider starting with 1–1.5 mg per evening. (If you are taking Ixcela Night, which is 3 mg, you may want to cut the tablet in half.) If you have previously taken melatonin with no side effects, consider a 3 mg dose.
For best results, take melatonin 30 minutes or immediately before bed. After taking melatonin, it is important to avoid bright lights and/or screens. Bright lights can suppress melatonin’s effectiveness.
When you are taking melatonin, it is important to allot 8–10 hours for sleep. Melatonin should not be taken unless there is adequate time for a full sleep cycle.
Everyone’s body reacts differently to melatonin. Individuals who have taken melatonin have experienced next-day grogginess, disturbing dreams or nightmares, and headache. If you experience any of these symptoms, try taking melatonin 30 minutes earlier than you did previously. For example, if you took melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime and experienced side effects, try taking it 60 minutes before bedtime the next day.
Continue to assess your symptoms and lower dosage as needed. If severe nightmares or other symptoms continue, stop using melatonin and try another natural sleep remedy.
If you do not feel any benefit from a 1–3 mg dose, talk to your doctor about trying a higher dose or making other interventions to support sleep.
Melatonin should be used in the short term to support a healthy sleep schedule. Make a plan to take melatonin daily for two weeks to a month, which may help you develop a consistent sleep schedule. Once you feel you are able to fall asleep at the same time every night with melatonin, try falling asleep without melatonin. Continue to follow a calming bedtime routine and go to bed at the same time every night to set yourself up for success.
It might be a good idea to slowly decrease your dose of melatonin. If you have taken 3 mg of melatonin for the last several weeks and you’re ready to stop taking melatonin, consider taking 1.5 mg for the next week. Then, try falling asleep at your normal bedtime without melatonin for a week. Continue to practice good sleep habits like going to bed at the same time every night and following a calming bedtime routine to support restful sleep.
To read more about natural sleep supplements, check out the article 5 Natural Sleep Aids and Best Practices.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rachel Stuck has a background in culinary arts and nutrition counseling. Rachel takes a positive approach to nutrition: she avoids recommending restrictive diets and instead focuses on helping people choose foods that promote health and well-being. She is passionate about empowering and assisting Ixcela members as they develop their unique, gut-healthy lifestyles.
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