benefits of melatonin?
January 18, 2012 5:14 PM   Subscribe

What are the supposed benefits of taking melatonin? Do you take it? How much? Does it work for you? I'm looking for accounts of your experience and recommendations for taking/not taking it. Thanks.
posted by Jenna Brown to Health & Fitness (53 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I take it to sleep through the night. Doesn't make me sleepy right away, but one tablet before bed means that whenever I do get to sleep (usually inside an hour) I'm probably going to stay asleep til the alarm goes off. That's huge for me.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:18 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I recently started taking 10 mg melatonin pills every night. After a few days they began to positively impact my ability to fall asleep. Melatonin has worked when everything short of barbituates has failed.
posted by msali at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2012

I've got serious insomnia problems most of the time. I sometimes take one melatonin tablet half an hour before I want to be asleep. I always sleep like a rock, though I also often have nightmares.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

What a coincidence, I was at my general physician's office asking her about supplements, particularly cinnamon, and she used melatonin as an example of a fad. Her explanation was that the stomach has a ph of 3 (hydrochloric acid) and the small intestine is exactly the opposite, so either way the benefits of melatonin is destroyed in the digestive process. Furthermore, she said that the chances of getting through the blood-brain barrier were next to zero. Sorry to disappoint you. Should you wish more advice on sleeping well, I have research I could share with you offline around sleep hygiene.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 5:27 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have tried melatonin for sleep issues. I can fall asleep fine but will wake up in the middle fo the night and be up for hours. So I gave melatonin a try since it seems more natural than the diphenydramine HCl I usually take or the doxylimate blah blah blah, The only thing melatonin has done for me is give me really vivid wacky violent dreams. Other people, however, have had success with it. I'm back on the doxylimate blah blah blah (can't remember the name) and have wonderful success.
posted by Sassyfras at 5:33 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I actually have very vivid and awful nightmares on melatonin that scare me so much I wake up in sweat.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:34 PM on January 18, 2012

Melatonin works fine for me. If taken about 30 minutes before I go to sleep, I get mildly groggy and sleep easily. If I don't lay down during that window, or if there are bright lights on, I tend to wake right back up, though. It doesn't necessarily keep me asleep, or help me sleep longer, but is quite good for the initial drowse off.
posted by LucretiusJones at 5:40 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

My partner sometimes takes melatonin. Sometimes it helps him fall asleep on schedule, although it makes him sleep very lightly. He also has unusually vivid dreams. He usually takes between 3 and 5 mg.

I'm suspicious of the efficacy for various reasons. I suspect that, for my partner, it's more of a placebo (he has to take the pill 30 minutes before bed for it to work, meaning the ritual itself may be helping more than the drug).
posted by muddgirl at 5:42 PM on January 18, 2012

I tried it to help with sleep issues. It did not have any effects at all for me.
posted by Houstonian at 5:44 PM on January 18, 2012

I live in the north and don't get a lot of sun in the winter. If I travel to a sunny place like Florida and end up getting a lot of sun, I will sometimes develop a case of "ice pick" headaches, which are incredibly debilitating. I have found the only thing that works, is taking Melatonin. The pain vanishes shortly after taking a few 10mg tablets. So I keep a few tablets in my travel case.
posted by Land Ho at 5:47 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I take it as well when I'm suffering from insomnia. It works most of the time. I occasionally get some crazy dreams out of it, but nothing that would make me stop taking it.
posted by royalsong at 5:50 PM on January 18, 2012

I didn't notice a significant effect with melatonin, but I was unwilling to keep trying to adjust the dosage. Sleep hygiene stuff - especially avoiding blue/white light an hour before bed - is extremely effective for me, however.

My sister says she has to be careful or she gets scary dreams.
posted by SMPA at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2012

I have occasionally taken melatonin, up to 10mg, but usually just 3mg, and every once in a while it helps me to fall asleep but it's inconsistent. Every doctor I've ever asked has given me mixed answers as to whether it works -- a lot of it dependent on the individual or their sleep atmosphere or their health etc etc etc --, but the fact is that for me it is not reliably effective. OTC sleep drugs, prescriptions, and the like also have no effect on me. Conversely, neither does caffeine.

Regarding what ~Sushma~'s doctor said, though, I read an article about a year ago on that blood-brain thing regarding melatonin and it said that melatonin easily passes through but at a lower permeability. Can't recall the author but I remember that the group he was with was the Melatonin Research Group or something similar. (I wasn't looking it up for sleep issues though.)
posted by sm1tten at 5:52 PM on January 18, 2012

When I was DJing and clubbing a lot and working a 9-5, i used it to help reset my sleep schedule after a long weekend. I don't know if it was a placebo effect or not, but it seemed to work.
posted by empath at 5:52 PM on January 18, 2012

came to say what Houstonian said. I'm in the "good for making expensive urine" camp here.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:53 PM on January 18, 2012

I have trouble getting to sleep, but not staying asleep once I'm there. I'll take 3 - 6 mg of melatonin, and it helps me fall asleep. I don't think it's a placebo for me, because I've various other "natural" remedies (valerian, passion flower, magnesium), and while I really wanted them to work, none of the others did a damn thing for me.
posted by lotus-eater at 5:56 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use a sublingual 2.5mg every night. Definitely helps me get drowsy enough to fall asleep, but doesn't keep me asleep. If I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes I fall asleep again, sometimes I'm just up- as it would be if I were taking nothing at all, I suspect.
posted by holterbarbour at 6:00 PM on January 18, 2012

I have trouble falling asleep. I have always been a night owl, but this problem has been exasperated by perimenopause. Generally once I fall asleep I stay asleep.

I started taking melatonin about a year ago. I take 2.5 mg. per night about an hour before I want to try to go to sleep. It seems to work, although some nights it works better than others. Honestly, if some told me it was just down to placebo effect, I'd still take it because more often then not, it helps me fall asleep. Additionally, I live in a small, cluttered studio and it's difficult for me to practice good sleep hygiene. I'm hoping to move in the not too distant future and rectify this but for now I'm sticking with the melatonin.

With regard to the weird dreams, the very first time I took melatonin was years ago while in graduate school I had a horrible nightmare which was unusual for me, so I attributed to the melatonin, threw it away and was too frightened to try it again for years. So when I started taking it last year, I started with a very low dose (1 mg.) and took it the first time on a Friday night (so if I had disturbed sleep, at least it wouldn't be on a work day). I gradually worked my way up to the 3 mg. I've never had a single bad dream in the year+ that I've been taking it regularly. Not sure if the first time was a coincidence or what.
posted by kaybdc at 6:00 PM on January 18, 2012

I take it to help me sleep and it appears to work, and I don't really care whether that's via a placebo effect or not because it has a low toxicity profile so adverse effects are probably unlikely. As for the blood-brain barrier thing, it's both water and lipid soluble, IIRC, so should cross the BBB fine.
posted by gaspode at 6:00 PM on January 18, 2012

It gave me incredibly vivid dreams. So much so that when I woke up I thought what had happened in the dream was real (along with intense nightmares). I switched over to tryptophan.
posted by loriginedumonde at 6:02 PM on January 18, 2012

I've had trouble going to sleep since before I remember. It usually took me hours, I would end up staying up until 3 just to pass our from exhaustion rather than try and fail at falling asleep. Now it's 9mg of melatonin a night and I'm out as soon as I want to be.
posted by griphus at 6:05 PM on January 18, 2012

It very reliably helps me get to sleep and stay asleep, but after 4-5 days of continued use I will break out like a teenager - acne all over my face (taking a "regular" 3mg dose). It clears up within a couple days of stopping the melatonin.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:06 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have no trouble falling asleep, but if I wake up at any point during the night, I'm usually up for HOURS. My doctor offered me a prescription sleeping pill, but I didn't want to go that route, so he suggested I try melatonin. I took 3mg every night for 3 months, and sometimes I slept, but sometimes I didn't, so I gave it up. I don't think it affected my dreams the way others have mentioned.
posted by wisekaren at 6:09 PM on January 18, 2012

Lifelong insomniac here. I finally tried 5mg melatonin after having it recommended to me for years but thinking it must be crap, and it seems to have a definite effect. As in, half an hour after taking it it's time for bed. It also gives me crazy dreams that are more likely to become lucid, which I consider a bonus.
posted by cmoj at 6:15 PM on January 18, 2012

I use it to help manage jet lag, and feel like it's been helpful, both for 3 hour jet lag and cross-oceanic jet lag. I take it shortly before I want to be falling asleep in my new time zone and I feel like it's helpful in resetting my internal clock.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:15 PM on January 18, 2012

I take 10mg most nights. Sometimes I'm convinced it helps, sometimes not, but nonetheless I keep on taking it.
posted by sfred at 6:18 PM on January 18, 2012

Did absolutely nothing for me. I experimented with a bunch of different doses and did not notice even the tiniest of effects.
posted by brainmouse at 6:23 PM on January 18, 2012

I don't have any sleep problems, but use melatonin to help me sleep in uncomfortable/foreign environments while on travelling. It has a definite and reliable effect on me: a very natural physical and mental sense that yes, indeed, it is time to go to bed. It erases anxiety about whether I will be able to sleep. I take 3-5 mg and find that the chewable variety works best, I think it might be the Trader Joe's brand. If I'm hopped up on caffeine it doesn't work, and if I take it in the middle of the day it doesn't have an effect. It doesn't keep me from waking up during the night to go to the bathroom and there's no morning-after effect to speak of.

So, the biggest pro is that there's no con. Totally possible that it has a placebo or at least variable effect, but there's no risk in trying.

( my ex-bf DID have sleep problems related to his daytime ADD meds, and he also had success. )
posted by supernaturelle at 6:27 PM on January 18, 2012

works for me. I usually take 3mg, right as I go to bed; I chew it, which makes it work faster (it's tasteless). ditto with the odd dreams, but they're kinda fun.
posted by changeling at 6:28 PM on January 18, 2012

Add me to the list of those that melatonin really helped. I have all sorts of problems sleeping -- usually, I will just stay up far too late for pointless reasons (like, 3, 4, 5, even 6:00 in the morning...ugh), and melatonin has really been helpful. I try and take it at least an hour before a time when I would want to go to bed (3mg), and then I don't even think about it. Before long I will honestly start getting a signal to sleep.

I take or have taken a lot of supplements, and melatonin is on the very short list of those that I can actually tell have an affect. Another example of an off-the-shelf supplement that had a noticeable effect was the ephedra in Ripped Fuel which I thought was going to kill me and was subsequently banned (about 10 years ago) -- hmmm, maybe there is a relationship here?
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 6:29 PM on January 18, 2012

Melatonin worked great for me. But I did build up a tolerance over time such that I had to take way more than I wanted. However, after stopping for awhile, my body went back to responding to lesser amounts again. So I use it in a rotation of different things that might not all work long term independently, but I can switch them out to keep them effective over time.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:29 PM on January 18, 2012

I've seen it help dialysis patients who are sensitive to other forms of sleep help. It knocks my hyper puppy out too (under vet supervision)!
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 6:31 PM on January 18, 2012

I take up to 4.5 mg (always sublingual, that's what works for me) and I can fall asleep within the hour and sleep through the night, which is not the natural state of affairs. 5 mg = overly vivid dreams and morning grogginess.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:31 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I am jetlagged or suffering from especially bad situational sleep hygiene problems like work or training situations where I don't gt exposed to any sunlight during the day, I will take 3 micrograms (MICRO, as in cut a sliver off a 3mg pill) roughly halfway between dark and a decent bedtime. I do this for 2-3 nights, plus get unfiltered UV light in my eyeballs for a short period every day (and recent research suggests that seeing live human faces is also a circadian cue, so I do that if I wouldn't normally). I've had that short-circuit really nasty jetlag, so I do it when the situation is pretty serious but try melatonin-free therapies when possible.

I do not believe it is a sleeping pill or that it has no toxicity level. I just think it's poorly studied and difficult to undeniably overdose on, so for now it gets sold as a nutritional supplement until someone gets really sick or long-term studies link it to tumors.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:34 PM on January 18, 2012

It didn't work for me, but it worked/s for my father and one of my good friends. (My friend just bought some new 1mg pills because she was complaining 5mg was knocking her out for 9+ hours, but no complaints of weird dreams from either.)

Stomach/intestine pH has an effect on any oral medication, but it doesn't eliminate it entirely; I checked databases quickly and it looks like there's about 15% availability from oral tablets (ranging from 1-20something). This takes into account oral administration, which is more variable between people than IV route because of differences in everyone's GI tract, including the liver.

Based on genetic differences with liver enzymes, about 20-30% of people probably aren't going be affected as much/at all by melatonin. (For those interested, melatonin uses CYP1A2, and 20-30% of people are 'fast' metabolizers.)
posted by cobaltnine at 6:35 PM on January 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I used to take 3-6mg. It might have helped a little, but it didn't help much. It definitely gave me vivid dreams though.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:40 PM on January 18, 2012

i buy the 5mg pills and break them in half - it makes me super drowsy within 20 minutes or so. I'm a little drowsy the next day but not nearly as much as when I take benedryl
posted by shrimpsmalls at 6:43 PM on January 18, 2012

Also, I can't remember where I read this, but when I was first starting to take it I was under the impression that increasing the dose does not increase the efficacy. In other words, taking twice as much wouldn't make you sleep twice as hard or long, but that a certain small amount (something like 3 - 5mg) was what triggered something and that more was either not effective or had some other effect....again, this was my impression from something I read ages ago, but for some reason (ahem, SOPA blackout of wikipedia) my memory fails me.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 6:45 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't take melatonin constantly, but when I'm in a stretch of not being able to get or stay asleep, I take it for a week or two and it helps me get back into a good sleep rhythm. It works beautifully for me within 30-45 minutes, as long as I actually go to sleep when the sleepy kicks in. If I stay up through the initial sleepy and get a second wind, then it doesn't seem to work to keep me asleep.

I take whatever dosage I find at the store, and haven't found much difference in my response EXCEPT that with sublingual, even at a smaller dosage than a regular pill, I am knocked out much quicker and seem to sleep even deeper.

My partner has tried melatonin and gets the crazy vivid exhausting nightmares, and no apparent improvement in sleep.

So, yeah - very individual. I'd say there's no harm in trying it, but try it on a weekend or some time when it won't totally screw up the next day if you do find that you spend the night in exhausting dreams of chasing unicorns across Nebraska, or whatever the hell.
posted by Stacey at 6:55 PM on January 18, 2012

I only take 500 mcg (1 pill of the Trader Joe's brand) about an hour before bedtime and it works really well to make me sleepy (and keep me asleep). Some of the amounts people here mention taking leave me awestruck!
posted by artemisia at 7:05 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lifelong insomniac here, with the added bonus of having an impossibly erratic work schedule that might literally find me working any combination of hours, totally randomly.

I've sporadically taken melatonin. I'm not someone who has nightmares generally, but I sure had them while taking melatonin, usually after a few days to a week of taking it as regularly as possible. (Although I like the "lucid dreaming" approach, and if I find myself taking it regularly again, I might try to steer it in that direction.) I definitely can get pretty religious about sleep hygiene, and I really think that makes a big computer or tv, warm light, jump in bed with a book and read for .5 hour. If I'm not cleaning the book up off the floor the next morning, I get up after that half hour and do something that's not very stimulating but distracting.

The Mrs has regular nightmares, and thinks that the pills make her nightmares more fragmented, which she thinks is worse.

All in all I would say give it a shot, but start with a low dosage and work your way up. I know plenty of people who never have nightmares on it, but there are definitely a lot of people who've told me they do, and that was unusual for them.
posted by nevercalm at 7:34 PM on January 18, 2012

Works for me and sleep-problem husband. I think he is getting the crazy dreams more than I do. But I can definitely feel it and if you'd had as much insomnia as I have, (a lot) you know that sleep without a struggle on those nights is something you just can't wish into existence. When I first started taking it it was because the OTC sleep stuff left me super groggy next day. I didn't think it would work but it did. I'm not big on herbal stuff in general, honestly, but they really need to do serious studies on it instead of rolling their eyes at people.
posted by emjaybee at 7:39 PM on January 18, 2012

Yeah, it definitely helps me fall and stay sleep. The only problem is that at best the whole time I'm having weird crazy dreams, but generally I'm having nightmares and/or sleep paralysis. Which I am VERY MUCH NOT FOND OF.

So I just take valerian now.
posted by grapesaresour at 7:41 PM on January 18, 2012

Melatonin is my "go to" placebo. In fact, the Trader Joe's brand doubles as a minty sugar pill. But seriously, I think it helps me fall asleep, and helps me deal with jetlag.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:00 PM on January 18, 2012

My kids' pediatrician recommended Melatonin when their ADHD meds were keeping them up at night. They take 3mg before bed and it helps.

I started taking it too. I take 5mg just to help me fell sleepy. It seems to work with no side effects and no dependency. I don't take it every night, just when I need it.

I've always had really vivid dreams and I haven't noticed a difference since I've been taking the Melatonin. If I'm woke in the middle of the night I still can't get back to sleep.

I use Valerian Root too. I use the Valerian to fight panic attacks and sometimes to help me sleep.

They both feel different when I use them. The Valerian makes me feel really mellow, kind of relaxed. The Melatonin makes me feel sleepy. Not falling-asleep-where-I-stand tired, just kind of sleepy. If I have to get up for some reason or I can't get to bed in time it seems like the effect wears off. Neither supplement makes me feel groggy or drowsy the next morning.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:06 PM on January 18, 2012

I tried it for a month or so (under the tongue version) in varying doses. It worked for a couple weeks and then nothing. It gave me the crazy dreams other people mentioned which I enjoy. It's almost worth taking it just for the dreams.
posted by deborah at 8:35 PM on January 18, 2012

I'm a lifelong night owl. I sleep just fine once I finally go to sleep, but falling asleep is a nightmare. My usual MO is to stay up until I literally can no longer hold my head up, then go to bed and fall asleep instantly. I also have a problem with bedtime creep: unless I am very very self-disciplined I stay up a little later every night until I hit the night when it's 6 or 7 a.m. and then I just stay up right through until the next evening in hopes of a reset. Sometimes that works, sometimes I will get overtired and miss a second night's sleep and that's when all hell breaks loose.

I have been using melatonin occasionally over the past six weeks or so, particularly on the nights when bedtime has crept past 2 a.m. and I want to reset before I hit the danger zone. I take 3 mg and within a half hour I am overpoweringly sleepy. I can't muscle through it by watching a movie or reading or putzing around on the internet. Pill to drowsy to sleep in about 40 minutes. In the morning I feel well rested and not groggy. I haven't noticed more dreams, but now I'm going to pay attention. I tend to have pretty vivid dreams anyway.

Previously I have tried Benadryl, Gravol, Trazadone and Seroquel for sleep. All four gave me terrible hangovers; Gravol was the only one that consistently made me fall asleep. Seroquel gave me night terrors, which is awful.
posted by looli at 8:45 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, sometimes I take some even when I know I can fall asleep on my own just for the dream boost. Am I a melatonin junkie??
posted by cmoj at 10:23 PM on January 18, 2012

Melatonin works, but it can't counteract other substances (or habits or mental attitudes). It makes you tired, but it doesn't necessarily make you sleep. If you are good at pushing through tired, or are wired on Pepsi, it probably won't work.
posted by gjc at 5:10 AM on January 19, 2012

I used melatonin fairly regularly when I was traveling internationally. Before I started using melatonin, I would have 2 or 3 days of getting used to the local time before my sleep schedule reset. When I took the melatonin, I was able to reset my sleep the first night in the new timezone and experienced no jetlag symptoms on my 1st morning in new time zone.
posted by hworth at 6:55 AM on January 19, 2012

Here's my previous answer to a similar question: Sleep-sleep-sleep

In short there are many causes of insomnia, and melatonin will only help if the insomnia is due to problems with your internal melatonin/seratonin cycle.

I have found it helpful for dealing with jetlag.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:28 PM on January 19, 2012

There have been several studies that show smaller doses of Melatonin (.3-.5mg), are more effective than larger doses (e.g. 3mg has more side-effects, and higher doses have less efficacy).
Melatonin - Dosage

Unfortunately many people prefer the 'knocked out by horse tranquilizers' feeling, rather than just being able to go to bed, close eyes, and fall asleep within 5 minutes.

I'm all, yay! Double blind studies! So I just break up 1mg tablets into quarters or thirds when needed. It does help though, because often my problem is not the falling asleep, but not turning off the computer and just lying down! Even at .25, I often feel 'sleepier', and more willing to turn things off and lie down.

I also avoid caffeine, block off all light sources, and, I tend to close my eyes and stare 'up' - where your eyes roll when you are dreaming, and let my mind wander, or try and vividly imagine some scenario. If I'm caught up with a problem or task etc, I write it down so I know I can 'drop it' til morning.
posted by Elysum at 3:31 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your doctor would be right except that there is sublingual melatonin that doesn't go through the digestive system and is effective for a lot of people IF their issue is getting to sleep since melatonin helps you get to sleep. If your issue is staying asleep, norepinephrine is needed and to my knowledge is only available in homeopathic form. And, by the way, more is not better when it comes to melatonin, 3mg under the tongue is often all that's needed.
posted by Infero at 5:07 AM on August 22, 2012

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