Melatonin supplements and sleep: What you need to know


Melatonin supplements and sleep: What you need to know

Between demanding work schedules and jam-packed weekends, many Americans struggle to get the sleep they need.
Sleep deprivation affects one-third of American adults, according to an analysis of data collected through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
And sleep deprivation can increase your risk for a broad variety of health conditions, including poor cognitive function, cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system.
That’s why some people are turning to over-the-counter melatonin supplements in hopes the so-called “sleep hormone” can help them get more ZZZs.

Featured Article

The health risks of too little sleep

Read Article

But does melatonin work, and does it have any potential side effects?
The answer to both questions is yes, says Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Michelle McCauley, who provides care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Andrews.
“Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body to stimulate a quiet wakefulness and prepare the body for sleep,” she says. “The goal of using supplemental melatonin is to further aid in the natural process. Melatonin can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep longer.”
But people taking melatonin should exercise caution and take the smallest dose needed for a limited period of time, Dr. McCauley says.
“Try taking it for a few nights, and if you achieve good sleep, wean off or taper your dose back to the lowest dose needed,” Dr. McCauley says.

A closer look

Melatonin is often used for jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (“night owls”) and among shift workers.
But the hormone isn’t for everyone.
Dr. McCauley says melatonin is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing or anyone who suffers depression or has an autoimmune or a seizure disorder.
And the hormone can have side effects. Dr. McCauley says that taking melatonin supplements can sometimes cause:

  • Vivid dreams
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Short-term feelings of depression
  • Stomach cramps

A different approach

Before taking melatonin, Dr. McCauley encourages people to concentrate on good “sleep hygiene,” a term that refers to establishing and maintaining a bedroom environment and daily routines designed to help you achieve consistent, uninterrupted sleep.
Some of those habits include:

  • Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
  • Keeping your bedroom cool, quiet and dark.
  • Avoiding caffeine before bed.
  • Avoiding TV or phone screens in bed. The light can trick the brain into thinking it is daytime.

And in cases of persistent insomnia, Dr. McCauley notes that patients might be best served by tackling the root cause, which is often anxiety or depression.
“I have found that there are usually underlying causes that can be addressed,” she says.
If you do take melatonin, make sure to keep your physician in the loop.
“It is always important to discuss with your doctor any over-the-counter medications you are taking,” Dr. McCauley says.

Dr. Michelle McCauley is a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Andrews. She is accepting new patients.

Learn More
Sign me up for email updates

Sign up below to receive email updates from

Live Better. Learn More.

Sign up for our e-newsletter.