Try Melatonin the Right Way
Last Updated: 15 May 2018 Melatonin has been a lifesaver for me and there’s a great chance it can help you if you’re having trouble sleeping. But you have to know how to use it, otherwise you wont get the full benefit and you could lose a valuable tool for sleeping better. First things first, Melatonin isn’t a sleeping pill – it’s more of a sleep timing pill. It’s not a drug that puts you to sleep, it’s the hormone that your pineal gland sends out to tell your brain it’s time to go to sleep. Normally its release is triggered by darkness and peaks around 9 pm, remaining at higher levels in your blood through the night. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work – for me, I’m not sure I have much of it naturally. The truth: Melatonin doesn’t work for everyone but when it works it really works! Another plus, when it works you often wont need it after a few days, because your body will be used to going to sleep at the same time. Many people are cautious around sleep medications because of addiction fears, rightfully so. This isn’t the case with Melatonin. Today I take a very small dose only when I really need it, and I go for long periods without it.
How Much Melatonin Should You Take?
The truth: Melatonin is a powerful hormone – so it’s best to go slowly. Multiple studies and meta-analyses at MIT have shown that lower doses like 0.3-1.0 mg are more effective than typical doses such as 3 mg., which are 10 times larger. Since it’s hard to find doses that small, one technique is to buy small dose pills like 2 or 3 mg and cut them in half or in quarters. This gets you a lot closer to the (often) optimal smaller dose. If you buy the liquid form you can get really precise, which is what I prefer to do. Additionally, the first time you take Melatonin you might find yourself groggy the next morning, so it’s definitely better to start with a small dose like .3 mg.
After you give it a try, experiment with changing the dose to find what works best for you – I find .5 mg or less well before bedtime is perfect for me, but I adjust depending on what’s going on in my life. If I’ve got a lot going on that day and might be going to bed really stressed, I might take a larger dose before bed (closer to .5 – 1mg – non-time-release), but for me it’s not the size of the dose that makes the biggest difference. The biggest difference comes from how soon before bed I take melatonin. If I take even a small dose a few hours before bed (instead of the normal 30 minutes indicated on the label), there’s a really powerful effect.
Can You Cut or Split Melatonin Pills?
The answer is yes you can split melatonin pills and you probably should. Most doses of melatonin are simply too big. Not only are they not as effective but a big dose can leave you feeling groggy the next morning. The only pills you might not want to cut are the time-release melatonin doses, if you really want the time release effect – some time release pills have a exterior coating that slows down how fast the pill dissolves. So splitting a time release pill could negate the time release effect because it would dissolve more easily after it’s split. On the other hand, time release pills are often too large a dose, so I would split them anyway and see if you get good results. The correct dose is more important than the time release effect in my opinion. Studies have shown that even a normal, non-time release pill before bed can help you stay asleep (not just fall asleep), so it’s worth cutting even a time-release pill. So feel free to cut those pills, or better yet, use liquid melatonin to get the perfect dose for you.
When Should You Take Melatonin?
Most doctors advise taking a regular (non-time release) melatonin thirty minutes before bed, but there are two additional ways to use melatonin that I find helpful:
- Take a regular dose of Melatonin four hours or more before your normal bedtime. This can be a fantastic practice that sets you on a soft, gentle glidepath to sleepytime… Make sure you don’t have anything to do (don’t plan on driving anywhere or performing brain surgery) and prepare to have a relaxing evening. As evening falls the melatonin kicks in and the urge to sleep become irresistible. This is a wonderful feeling for someone who suffers from chronic insomnia!
- Time Release: If you regularly wake up in the middle of the night, time-release melatonin can help. An adult can try a 1mg dose to start, right before bedtime.
Which Brand of Melatonin is Best?
There are many trustworthy brands of Melatonin on the market. Maybe too many brands actually, as the choice can be overwhelming. Labdoor.com has ranked them according to quality and value and it’s worth following their recommendations. The brands that receive an A rating from Labdoor.com fared very well in lab tests, with higher purity standards and levels of melatonin that almost exactly match the labeled dose (other brands were found to deliver up to 47% too much!). I prefer to order from Amazon because if you buy at the drugstore, you often only find off-brand melatonin and you rarely find small-dose pills.
NOW brand received Labdoor.com’s highest rating. Puritan’s Pride, Natrol, and Source Natural brands all received A ratings and have worked well for me. Here are my recommendations:
If you prefer to take a pill (break these in half the first time you try them): NOW 1 Mg
For a small dose, timed-release pill: Natrol 1 mg time-release
For a small dose, sublingual pill to help you go back to sleep: Source Naturals 1 Mg Sub-Lingual
Risks from Melatonin
While not a risk, a simple fact is that Melatonin does not work for everyone. You’ll only know whether it works for you if you try it. Many users report extremely vivid dreams, which can be a plus or a minus. Some users report nightmares, which are more of a minus. Other side effects are very mild, even for large doses – an exhaustive listing can be found here. The biggest one I’ve found is that if I haven’t taken melatonin for a while and I take a larger dose before bed, I’ll feel groggy the next day. It’s best to ease into it. Many former insomniacs swear by melatonin as the key to good sleep, but many people have tried melatonin with no luck. It’s very likely that by starting with a much smaller dose and experimenting with the timing, they could benefit too.
How to Make Melatonin Naturally
Melatonin is produced in response to darkness and it’s suppressed by light (specifically sunlight – which has the wavelength our bodies have tuned into over the millennia). For your body to produce melatonin at the right times, you need to manage your light levels. This means getting some sunlight during the day. Not office-light. Sunlight. Sunlight is hundreds of times brighter than artificial light and provides the wavelengths your body associates with wakefulness. At night, this means avoiding light as you get closer to bedtime. Here is a post on how to manage your light exposure.
Make a Change:
Try 0.3 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before bed for one week.
References and Additional Resources
http://www.gwern.net/Melatonin – very detailed breakdown of research around melatonin