Does Melatonin Work If You Have Insomnia?

3mg melatonin tablets bottleThe short answer to the question of whether Melatonin works or not if you have sleep problems is yes – sometimes.

The more complex answer is that it depends on your exact type of sleeping difficulty.

It doesn’t simply depend on your desire to fall asleep quicker, nor on your desire to only take a ‘natural’ sleeping pill.

Melatonin will only work for some people who have certain sleep disorders or lifestyles. Here are some examples:

  1. It can sometimes help to overcome Jet Lag faster.
  2. It may help people who have changing shift patterns at work.
  3. If you have delayed sleep phase syndrome.
  4. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
  5. If you are an elderly person struggling to fall asleep at the time you want to.

Unfortunately if you have a ‘normal’ case of insomnia you may find that Melatonin doesn’t work at all.

Why does it only work for some people?

It’s important to understand that Melatonin isn’t a generic sleeping pill that will knock anyone and everyone out. To understand why, we need to take a closer look at what Melatonin is and the way it works.

Then you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s the right kind of sleep aid for you or not.

So what is Melatonin exactly?

Melatonin is a hormone which the body naturally produces in the Pineal Gland in the brain.

It’s main job is to send signals to the brain telling it when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. In this way it helps control the human Circadian Rhythm (sometimes known as the internal body clock).

This is the daily biological pattern that repeats every 24 hours, and involves set times of the day when we feel more or less sleepy. So you could see Melatonin as an alarm clock which tells your brain twice a day important information about being awake or asleep.

 diagram showing when melatonin production starts and ends

How does Melatonin work?

The way Melatonin works is based on the quantity the body produces at certain time of the day.

In the morning (typically around 7:30am) your body produces less Melatonin, and at the other end of the day (around 9:00pm) it produces more Melatonin.

When you have more Melatonin in the body, your body temperature lowers and you’ll start to feel sleepy. In the morning, the reduction of Melatonin means you’ll start to warm up and feel less sleepy.

Melatonin production in the body is also affected by light. That’s why it’s a good idea to expose your body to daylight every day. This makes sure your Circadian rhythm is working properly, and you’re able to sleep and wake up according to the natural cycle of night and day.

Melatonin helps regulate sleep, but doesn’t make it happenmelatonin works by regulating sleep timings

The important thing to note then is that Melatonin helps tell the body about the timings for going to sleep and waking up. It doesn’t make you fall asleep.

This is the main reason why it’s not thought to be much help for most kinds of insomnia. But if you’ve had your sleep pattern disrupted, it can help to reset your confused body and brain.

Do Melatonin sleep aids work?

This is a difficult question to answer, because there’ no standard answer that fits all situations. The research done so far on Melatonin is inconclusive and contradictory from one study to the next.

It’s been shown in some studies to work effectively for some sleep problems, but not at all for others.

That’s why it’s important to discuss taking Melatonin pills with a doctor before buying them. You may be wasting your money and risking your health.

I know that’s not a very clear answer, so let’s take a look at exactly which sleep problems it might help with.

Does Melatonin work for insomnia?

The general line from the majority of researchers and medical experts is that Melatonin doesn’t work effectively as a general insomnia treatment. A large study  in 2004 reviewed many pieces of research and concluded that there’s no evidence that it helps insomnia.

It may help you fall asleep quicker by a few minutes, but not enough to make it a worthwhile sleep aid. They also found no evidence that it helps most other primary sleep disorders.

This may be disappointing news for insomniacs looking for the latest and greatest natural sleep aid. Even though forums, blogs and articles have stories of people saying it helped, there may be a bit of a placebo effect at work in many cases.

Or it could be that many people don’t actually have insomnia, but it’s simply their sleep timings that needed correcting.

When does Melatonin work?

As I’ve already mentioned, there’s no unanimous conclusion about when Melatonin works. However, some researchers have found the following results:

1. The most successful result seems to be with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. This is where you can’t fall asleep until late in the night, or early in the morning. But when you do, you tend to sleep for a relatively normal amount of time. So Melatonin works by helping reset your body clock to fall asleep earlier.

2. Melatonin can sometimes help with restoring a disrupted Circadian rhythm such as occurs with Jet Lag. This can be particularly effective when traveling across many time zones, and more so when traveling east.

3. Melatonin has also been found to be sometimes useful for the disruption to the Circadian rhythm experienced by shift workers. If, for example, you work 3 night shifts, then 2 day shifts, you may find it helps you to fall asleep when you need to if you time the dosage correctly.

4. It’s been found to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder in some studies.

5. Melatonin has been found to help older people (over 50) to fall asleep quicker. However, it may not help them to stay asleep for longer.

Side effects

Despite being considered a natural sleep aid, there are many potential side effects of Melatonin. Most people take it with no problems at all, but if you are thinking of trying it, it’s a good idea to be aware of the possible problems that can arise.

Have you tried melatonin?

Have you tried Melatonin before? Did it help you sleep, and if so, what kind of sleep problems were you having? Feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts.

 

29 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I took 2 10mg pills of melatonin from the pharmacy and it did nothing. It was the same as taking no sleep aid. I have way better results by taking 75-100 mg of benadryl or ZZZQuil even though it’s 3-4 times the recommended dosage, it’s what gets me to sleep and KEEPS me asleep for at least 7-8 hours. Obviously this isn’t good long term, so I was hoping melatonin would be my replacement, but it doesn’t work whatsoever for me.

  • I’ve been prescribed melatonin for insomnia.. It did absolutely nothing to help me sleep but it did make me agitated and slightly nauseous. The main reason to recommend it is that it’s not addictive or habit forming.

  • I’ve been taking it now for months … my max is 3 hours consecutive sleep … then it’s an hour perhaps two in a row obviously it’s not working what other natural methods do you folks maybe know of ???? Im not fond of general drugs ….

  • Hey, yeah my question is and this is out of no where it happened….2 weeks ago I had a very hard time falling asleep and ever since my sleep has been all missed up so I started using melatonin and it’s helping pretty well…but I’m just confused on how this issue just happened out of no where…and the past 2 weeks I stress myself out I’m not gonna sleep at night….so any advise plz!!? Lol

    • Hi David
      Thanks for your comment. Sometimes people do just develop sleep problems with no immediately obvious reason. And it’s even more common to just go through the occasional bad patch of sleep without it being any specific sleep disorder.
      My advice is to try not to worry about your sleep, as that just gets you into a vicious circle of the worry being the reason you can’t sleep – even if the original cause of your bad sleep has long gone.
      If you like, try some of my recommended relaxation exercises when you go to bed. It can help a lot to take your mind of anxious thoughts while you lie in bed.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Sleeping is exceptionally difficult for me. I’ve stopped all prescription meds. So not recommend! My background is that of am RN w emphasis in psychiatry. Here to remind us too that traumas truly are to mental illness as cigarettes etc., are to Cancer. My stopping many prescription medicines is a very personal decision! Follow your health care providers instructions. Get a second or 3rd opinion of necessary!

    I digress often. :) So yes… I’m studying melatonin more than have in past because of my severe sleeping problem.

    Only wish to say I do agree if truly diagnosed, insomnia, even melatonin at highest safe doses may simply not work… Find I’m sleeping 3 hrs within a 24 period with 10mg of melatonin and (1) Tylenol PM, in generic acetaminophen w diphenhydramine (benedryl).

    While I’m unsure what my plan is at this point, I am asking any others that may have a tip for me!

    For, me personally, staying off off ambien, and the like, is my goal!

    I do smoke marijuana though have not I’m quite awhile. My plan is to start this herb again, and see if now that off meds
    for sleep and anxiety if it’ll truly help.

    It will be my personal study one could say.

    All medicines etc., Are “highly” individualized, as is marijuana. Many factors can come into play.

    Thank you and God bless,
    Nurse Jacki ;)

  • I have sleep initiation insomnia, it’s when you can’t fall asleep and stay asleep.
    I’ve had it since childhood and was told to take 5mg melatonin, it has no effect what so ever on me so I stopped taking it.
    I’m now having CBT for Insomnia which is the hardest thing ever!! But hoping for good things!!

    • Hi Sarah
      Thanks for your comment. I know the feeling, as I’ve had that same problem during long periods of my life. CBT can work wonders, so stick with it and hopefully you’ll sleep better and better.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Hi,
    Thank you for this article.
    So I started using this a few weeks ago for my 2 yrs blind daughter. It used to work great but then stopped. I read that I should stop it every 2 months for a week and I did but when we were back a couple of days ago it still is not working! Now it’s 11:30pm and my daughter is still awake with her eyes widely open and is super active!!! Before this, she used to fall asleep in less than 30 min and used to sleep all night for not less than 11 hrs.

    • Hi Amani
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you like the article. I think this is one for your daughter’s doctor to think about. It may be that her sleep pattern is just naturally changing as well, and adjusting to less than 11 hours.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Yes I have tried 5 grams of it, breaking in half a 10 tablet, saving the other half for another night. It usually makes me sleepy enough to fall asleep to begin with, but then a couple of hours or so later I’m awake again. It doesn’t promote a normal restful sleep of 7 or 8 hours.

    • Hi Kitty
      Thanks for your comment. Melatonin isn’t usually the perfect sleeping pill that people hope for! For some it seems to work wonders, but for others like you, it either doesn’t seem to work well at all or as you say, helps a bit but doesn’t keep you asleep all night.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • The biggest researcher on melatonin was Russel Reiter who wrote a book called naturally ” Melatonin”. There was far more about it than we think. It not only regulates sleep but regulates pubertal hormones, regular the production of The cells and natural killer cells ( white blood cells, immune function), and this is why we heal when we sleep. This is why we sleep when we’re sick and this is why melatonin helps cancer. There were also several paragraphs on marijuana, the reason it is classified as a narcotic is it increases melatonin levels 400% . This also would explain its usefulness with cancer. That would explain the red bleary eyes of pot smokers.

    I didn’t used to need it most of my life, I assume my pineal gland was working normally, but something happened as I aged, stressed, nightshift nursing, melatonin wasn’t putting me out and I switched to benadryl, 100 mg, yes that’s what it took . Even 100 mg of melatonin wasn’t doing it. I overcame adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism and ulcer with the help of msm and TMG, but was having horrible arthritis, and otherwise was healing. Looked up consumer complaints of benadryl causing arthritis, sure enough. I stopped the benadryl and went back on melatonin, now I wake up at 2:30 am having to poo, and can’t go back to sleep. Pain is much less. Doc no help. He says find out what works for me and do it. Going to try lavender and valerian on payday and get back on 3 grams of niacin (No flush). Niacin did seem to help.

  • My doctor gave perscribed me melatonin for my insomnia. I found it did next to nothing to help me sleep, but when i did sleep i found that it was a deep, more relaxing sleep. Another side effect i found was that when i took it and did get to sleep, i would wake up everytime after about 3 or 4 hours and be unable to get back to sleep. I was perscribed slow release which is supposed to release over 3 to 4 hours, maby as the levels of melatonin in my body dropped after 3/4 hours, my body thought it was time to wake up?

    • Hi Jack
      Thanks for your comment. I think it’s more likely to be just because melatonin isn’t as strong as you might think. Many people find it helps a little bit, but doesn’t knock them out for the night like many other sleep aids do.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I am taking 3 melatonin and my mom told me not to take that much. I think it may work if I take one. I have trouble at times falling asleep. Will it help me at night to fall asleep? I don’t know if it is bad for my health? I told my doctor I take melatonin. She didn’t say anything was wrong. She didn’t say anything at all about it. I take sycotic medicine. Depression medicine too. I hope you can help?

    • Hi Crystal
      Thanks for your comment. I think with that combination of medication, the best person to really advise you is your doctor. Although presumably they aren’t too worried if you mentioned it and they didn’t comment much. However, you could always bring it up again, but asking specifically if it’s ok to take – in the same way as you asked here.
      In terms of will it work, well that’s a difficult question to answer. Melatonin only really works in certain situations, so it’s hard to judge – you’re probably the best judge of that, to be honest.
      Now, one cause for concern is possible interactions between the specific meds you’re taking. Again, it’s something your doctor should look into and decide on. Perhaps they already did consider it, and decided it’s ok. But I’d double check with them.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I recently started taking an anti depressant and it was keeping me up at night even if I took the medicine in the morning, the doctor told me to try melatonin it did nothing for me except make me tired the next day. My daughter is a pharmacist and suggested I lower the dosage of anti depressant but that really did not work either my sleep was still disrupted, she then recommended I have a cup of tea before I go to bed that had Valerian root in it. I was floored when I fell asleep and and did not wake up till the light woke me in the morning. Why did the melatonin not work but the Valerian root did?

    • Hi Sue
      Thanks for your comment. Melatonin and valerian work in completely different ways, so it’s no surprise that they had different effects. Melatonin isn’t though to be useful for regular insomnia for most people. Valerian, on the other hand, can help people through it’s calming and sedative effects. And then of course there’s the possibility of a placebo effect, depending on how you were thinking and feeling about the valerian that night.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Hi Ethan,

    I’ve been taking about one melatonin a night for the past year. I have had chronic insomnia for about six years now. For a long time it seemed like it was the only thing that could help me rest. I’d often have trouble falling asleep, but wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night once I was relieved. Before I took melatonin I never thought of myself to have anxiety, but more recently I’ve been worrying about small things that other people don’t. Sometimes I even sweet or have accelerated palpitations. I thought melatonin was helping me sleep, but it seems my body has acclimated to the supplement. Now it doesn’t work anymore. In fact my insomnia has gotten worse. Rather than acting up only once every month or so it now causes me issues up to twice a week. My guess is that my body is rejecting the supplements but I’m not sure. How can I get my body to at least not need the melatonin supplements anymore?

    • Hi Alex
      Thanks for your comment. Have you looked deeply into all the different sleep hygiene techniques that are often talked about? Really putting effort into getting all that right is a positive step to take and something that can help with stopping taking sleep aids. It may also be that your body doesn’t need the melatonin at all. You could try taking a half tablet for a week, and then cutting it out altogether. That gives you some time to set up a good sleep routine in preparation. I’d also suggest tackling the anxiety as a separate things. There are lots of self-help approaches you could try, for example mindfulness.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I’ve been taking melatonin for a long while. I take 15 mg a.night. Ive had problems falling asleep since my early Teens. I am now 54. That’s the only thing I’ve found that helps.
    My dear sweet cousin recommend it

    • Hi Jennifer
      Thanks for your comment. Have you ever spoken to your doctor about the length of time you’ve taken melatonin for? Have you been taking it continuously all this time, or have you had periods without taking it? I’m very interested to know what your experience has been.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I took about 30 at one time in a suicide attempt in January. I have been having stomach problems since. Could i have caused problems to my liver or gallbladder from this?

    • Hi Johnetta
      Thanks for your comment. I’m very sorry that you were feeling that way in January. It’s possible that it didn’t agree with your insides, but really, you’d need to speak to a doctor to find out what’s going on exactly.
      I hope that whatever led to the suicide attempt in January has lessened in intensity or difficulty. Do you have someone you can talk to about how you feel about the things which trouble you?
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I have trouble sleeping so my mom had me get the 10mg melatonin said it’s all natural. I have a high tolerance for sleep aids. So at 8pm i took 3 couldn’t sleep so i kept adding a couple more. By 8am i had tasken 11 that’s 110mg still didn’t sleep but started seeing thing and am very irritable. Can you tell me how long will it take to feel normal

    • Hi Rebecca

      Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I don’t know how long it will take you to feel normal. I suspect within 24 hours you should be back to normal. But if you’re concerned, the best thing is to speak to your doctor or emergency services.
      I think you’ve unfortunately done what many people do with melatonin, which is to keep ‘topping up’ during the night. But this simply doesn’t work, because melatonin only helps regulate your body clock, which has a natural cycle. If you want to know more about it, and hopefully understand why it probably won’t help taking it later in the night, have a look at this article about the internal body clock and melatonin.
      All the best
      Ethan

  • Leave a comment:

    Your email address will not be published.


    Thank you for your comment. I will read and publish it as soon as possible.

24 Shares
Share
Pin
+1
Tweet