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How Does Melatonin Work?

Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces to aid with sleep. Your body’s internal clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) determines when to release melatonin to help the body achieve a good night’s rest.

Unfortunately, some people’s internal clocks can get a little messed up and lead to the under-production of melatonin. There are a variety of things that can disrupt your circadian rhythm, including viewing electronics too late at night, drinking caffeine too late in the day and jet lag. Hormone imbalances can also impact our internal clock and melatonin production.

Fortunately, there are melatonin supplements we can take to help us get to sleep more easily at night. Here’s how melatonin works (in ideal situations).

Melatonin’s Impact on the Brain and Body

Melatonin (whether produced by the body or taken in supplement form) induces feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. Your body produces more melatonin in response to darkness. That’s why most people naturally get tired around bedtime. If you keep a consistent bedtime, your melatonin levels should ideally begin to rise approximately two hours before you go to bed.

If your body doesn’t produce sufficient melatonin at the right time, you may have trouble falling asleep at night. There are also some sleep conditions, such as insomnia, that can interfere with your ability to get sufficient sleep. In these types of scenarios, taking a melatonin supplement may help.

What to Know About Taking Melatonin

While melatonin is generally considered safe to take, it’s wise not to take it for too long. Less is more when it comes to melatonin, and it’s important not to exceed the recommended dose. For adults, anywhere between 1 and 3 mg of melatonin a couple of hours before bedtime is usually sufficient.

If melatonin doesn’t seem to help after a couple of weeks of use, you should stop using it. If it does seem to help, try not to take it for more than one to two months at a time. You don’t want to become dependent on it if you can help it.

Don’t use melatonin if you’re breastfeeding, pregnant or have an autoimmune disorder. Melatonin may not be recommended for those who have high blood pressure, depression or diabetes, so talk to your doctor before using melatonin if you have any of these conditions.

Other Ways to Improve Sleep

In addition to taking melatonin, you can also improve your likelihood of getting quality sleep by turning the lights down low before bedtime, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and staying away from electronics for at least an hour before bedtime.


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