The People's Perspective on Medicine

What Time Is Best to Take Melatonin?

If you want to take melatonin for better sleep, the timing is best if you take it half an hour to an hour before turning out the lights.
MOSCOW – SEPTEMBER 24, 2017: Melatonin tablets by Natrol company. Illustrative editorial photo

How do you deal with sleeplessness? Although people frequently take sleeping pills such as zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo, Zolpimist), zaleplon (Sonata) or eszopiclone (Lunesta), they may become dependent on these agents. Individuals who suddenly stop one of these drugs may suffer greatly from rebound insomnia. Instead, many of our readers would prefer something more natural. Some turn to melatonin, a hormone that is readily available in the US without a prescription. Should you take melatonin?

What Time to Take Melatonin?

Q. When is a good time for me to take melatonin? Typically I go to bed at 10:30 PM and read for an hour before lights out. I often awaken at 1 or 2 AM and can’t fall back to sleep.

A. Melatonin appears to be most helpful if taken 30 minutes to an hour before sleep. In your case, that would mean taking it at bedtime.

Although melatonin could help you fall asleep more quickly (Neurological Research, June 2017), we don’t know whether it will help you stay asleep.  A prolonged-release formulation might be useful for that purpose (Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, April 2012). The maker of a European prescription prolonged-release melatonin, Circadin, has funded research showing that this medication is effective and rarely results in morning hangover or rebound insomnia (International Clinical Psychopharmacology, Jan. 2015).

A review of 25 controlled trials concluded that the optimal dose of melatonin for older adults is somewhere between 1 and 6 mg (Senior Care Pharmacist, July 1, 2019). The authors noted that the current studies are not adequate to determine the optimal dose more precisely. People taking melatonin for sleep, whether they use the OTC forms available in the US or the prescription form available in Europe, rarely report worrisome side effects.

Learn More:

You can learn more about melatonin and other nondrug approaches to overcoming insomnia in our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. You may also wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Chris Winter, author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It. It is Show 1125: How Can You Find Your Sleep Solution? 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Tips for beating insomnia: foods to avoid, foods that help, herbal remedies, sleeping pills. Our online guide includes drugs that may cause insomnia. Learn about the latest medication, Belsomra.

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
  • Xie Z et al, "A review of sleep disorders and melatonin." Neurological Research, June 2017. DOI: 10.1080/01616412.2017.1315864
  • Lemoine P & Zisapel N, "Prolonged-release formulation of melatonin (Circadin) for the treatment of insomnia." Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, April 2012. DOI: 10.1517/14656566.2012.667076
  • Pierce M et al, "Optimal melatonin dose in older adults: A clinical review of the literature." Senior Care Pharmacist, July 1, 2019. DOI: 10.4140/TCP.n.2019.419.
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I have found that keeping my Vitamin D level up helps me sleep all night and helps with several other issues like joint pain and choking while swallowing.

I’ve switched to valerian when I need help falling asleep, which isn’t very often. Melatonin gives me a morning hangover feeling, no matter how small the amount I’ve taken, but the valerian does not have that affect. I sleep well for 8 hrs. and wake feeling refreshed. It smells horrible, but has no bad aftertaste.

Most people take way more melatonin than needed. Naturally, your body would only produce about 1/2 mg. I buy 1 mg. chewable tablets and split them in half. It works for me.

I find that taking Melatonin 3 hours before bed works best. It seems to take that long to make me sleepy and then I sleep well all night. Or if I get up to use the bathroom I fall back to sleep easily.

If I don’t take Melatonin, I can easily stay up till the wee hours, like 2 or 3AM, but then can’t get up in the morning.

I only take 3/4 mg (a 3 mg tablet, split into 4 pieces, taken over 4 nights.) If I take more than that, I have disturbing dreams.

I have found that listening to your podcasts helps me return to sleep. I have gotten acclimated to tuning in on Sat. mornings and then not getting up right away. The good thing about this is I can listen to the podcast over several days, restarting it at 1/4 increments. The recent aruvedic approach in combination with chemo and irradiation was a capital idea. My wife drinks golden milk in the morning, and I like to do the same with water rather than soy. But I will consider a poultice of turmeric for my next sunburn and maybe for the cancer want-to-be on my forearm because for many years I drove with the Texas sun beating down on my arm.

I recommend a reduced dose of melatonin 1 or 2 mg.

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