Nowadays, many people turn to melatonin to help them fall asleep. Melatonin can also help if you have trouble sleeping. You can only achieve the greatest effect with the right dose of melatonin. The wrong dose can pose dangerous risks.
With our big article: The most important questions and answers for the right melatonin dose, we want to give you an understanding of how you can achieve the best effect from the sleep hormone. With this article, we also want to bring you closer to the risks that could occur with the wrong dose.
the essentials in brief
- Melatonin is also known as the sleep hormone and regulates the day-night rhythm. The hormone is formed in the body from the neurotransmitter serotonin.
- There are many different types of melatonin supplements. People who do not like to take pills still have a wide range of other preparations to choose from.
- You can get the best effect from a melatonin supplement with the right dosage. The wrong dosage can have dangerous effects.
Melatonin dosage: what you should know
Before we give you some tips and hints about melatonin dosage, you should acquire some basic information.
In the following section we have selected and answered some frequently asked questions for you.
What is melatonin and how does it work?
Melatonin is a hormone that controls the day-night rhythm. It is formed in the body from the neurotransmitter serotonin. It is mainly formed in the pineal gland in the brain and small amounts are also formed in the retina of the eye and in the intestine (1).
The amount that is released depends on the eye. When daylight falls on the retina, melatonin production is inhibited. In the dark, on the other hand, the release is stimulated.
The released hormone can then dock at certain binding sites, such as blood vessels in the brain and also at some cells of the immune system. This means that when it is dark, the body is signaled that it is now time to rest. Energy consumption is reduced and blood pressure is also lowered (3).
In addition, the hormone also lowers the body temperature, it boosts the immune system, it influences the release of learning, memory and also the release of sex hormones.
During the day, melatonin levels are three to twelve times lower than at night. The body's own production of melatonin decreases as you get older.
When and for whom does it make sense to take melatonin?
Melatonin can be particularly helpful for people who are older, people whose day-night rhythm is disturbed, people who want to fight their jet lag after long flights, people who work the night shift and for the blind (2).
As a rule, children and adolescents do not need any additional melatonin, since they produce plenty of it in their own bodies. Melatonin is also not always suitable for people with chronic diseases, depression or autoimmune diseases. This should always be discussed with a doctor beforehand.
You should also avoid taking melatonin before doing activities that require your full attention. An example of this would be driving a car.
It is important that if you have persistent health problems, you should always consult a doctor first. No available literature can replace the services of a physician.
How should I dose melatonin?
Every body is an individual and accordingly has an individual need for melatonin. It is therefore not possible to generalize which dosage of melatonin is the right one.
When using melatonin, the right dosage and the right intake is crucial to achieve the best possible effect. If the dosage or intake is not correct, it can lead to the effect of the sleep hormone being weakened or even absent altogether.
Basically, with melatonin, you start with a smaller dosage and then increase the amount as needed. However, it is recommended not to exceed the dose of 2 mg. In this case, a higher dosage usually does not have a stronger effect.
If you have traveled and have jet lag, for example, it is recommended to take a dose of 0.5 mg. If you have trouble falling asleep and want to shorten the time it takes you to fall asleep, you can take a dose of 1 mg.
Of course, there are many different dosage forms:
- orodispersible tablets
- Candies / Lozenges
Nevertheless, for all dosage forms, the daily dose of 2 mg must not be exceeded.
Melatonin supplements come in many different dosage forms. If you want something quick and easy, then the capsule dosage form of melatonin is probably the best. (Image source: Pawel Czerwinski / Unsplash)
When taking it, of course, it depends on what kind of melatonin administration you have. Only your family doctor can tell you which type and dosage is best for you. To be on the safe side, it makes the most sense to visit your family doctor before taking it.
How long does it take for melatonin to work?
When you take melatonin is critical to its effectiveness, as the melatonin is thought to maintain the circadian rhythm and help throughout the night.
If you wake up in the night, it is recommended not to take melatonin again. This could mean that the effect can extend into the day.
As a rule, melatonin shows its effect between about 20 and 60 minutes after ingestion. But this also depends on the dosage form.
It is therefore important that you take the melatonin supplement half an hour to an hour before bedtime to get the best effect.
Does one become dependent on melatonin?
According to previous experience, it does not affect the phased structure of sleep in any way. In addition, according to current knowledge, there is no possibility that one could become dependent on the sleep hormone melatonin, even if one should take a higher dose over a longer period of time.
What happens if the melatonin dosage is too high?
A dosage of more than 2 mg melatonin does not necessarily have to be harmful to health. However, you should still stick to the daily dose. Otherwise, it could lead to headaches, gastrointestinal complaints and other disorders.
A walk is a great way to incorporate it into your everyday life. A 10-minute walk during your lunch break can help you fall asleep more easily and better at night. The sun stimulates the formation of serotonin, which has positive effects on the sleep hormone. (Image Source: Eddie Junior / Unsplash)
If you take too high a dose every day and do it for a long period of time, it can lead to serious consequences. It can cause your melatonin receptors to become overstimulated and less responsive.
This in turn means that the tiredness is also present during the day. You are then not only tired in the evening but also during the day. It leads to exhaustion, lack of concentration, delayed reaction time of the body.
This can be very dangerous, since your performance is reduced and the risk of accidents increases.
You should always take melatonin mindfully and appropriately as this is the best way to protect yourself from these negative and dangerous side effects.
Is Melatonin Harmful or Dangerous?
You cannot get real damage from melatonin in this way, only there can be side effects that can lead to damage. In most cases, however, side effects only occur after prolonged use (4).
In this case, the side effects would be:
- lack of concentration
It is important to note that the side effects do not come from the melatonin supplement alone, they can also arise from the other ingredients. Side effects can also affect your dreams. When you take melatonin you may have very vivid dreams or you may have nightmares.
Rare side effects would be reduced sexual desire or increased irritability. Head, back and joint pain can occur. Migraines can also occur as a side effect (5).
It is also important to see if melatonin interacts with other medications. It is best to talk to your doctor about this topic beforehand to discuss the risks. There is an interaction, for example, with anti-rheumatic drugs, immunosuppressants, birth control pills and also with blood pressure medication (10).
What alternatives are there to melatonin?
If you have trouble falling asleep, you don't always have to resort to melatonin right away. There are also alternatives that might help you before you decide to take melatonin. Here are a few alternatives that might help you:
Avoiding blue light
Before going to sleep, it is recommended to put the cell phone away for an hour and also to avoid screens. The emitted "blue light" inhibits melatonin formation in the evening, as the retina perceives it as bright. Thus, the body mistakes the artificial light of the monitors for daylight.
The blue light emitted by smartphones and computer screens is not good for the eyes. In the evenings in particular, it is advisable to only use the devices in night mode. The retina of the eye perceives the blue light as daylight and thus inhibits the production of melatonin. (Image Source: Windows/Unsplash)
All devices that have small LEDs should also be unplugged from the power supply. When you sleep in or near a light source, you decrease your melatonin levels by as much as 50 percent. This manifests itself in your having trouble sleeping through the night (6).
Accommodation from bedroom
You should also avoid large meals before going to bed. It is also helpful to adjust the bedroom. The temperature of the room should be neither too warm nor too cold. It is recommended to keep the temperature between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius. In addition, the room should be darkened, which works well with pleated blinds or lightproof curtains, for example.
Regular sleep rhythm
The hormone melatonin ensures a regular day-night rhythm. But if you go to bed late at the weekend and get up late, we sabotage the rhythm.
If you have trouble falling asleep or are prone to insomnia, we recommend that you stick to a regular sleep schedule. It is important to fall asleep and wake up at about the same time. After a while, the melatonin level also regulates itself and thus helps to maintain the rhythm (9).
Even if it's difficult, you can do a lot for your sleep with it.
The next alternative is to produce more serotonin. Serotonin is also known as the "happiness hormone" and is absorbed when you are exposed to direct sunlight or daylight. Serotonin production is lower in winter because the days are getting shorter and shorter, at least in Germany, and there is also a lack of sunlight.
This is exactly why many people have more problems falling asleep in winter. It is therefore very helpful if you open the curtains properly in winter or go for a half-hour walk every day in daylight.
A short walk is easy to fit into everyday life. Be it going out for a short lunch break or going for a walk before/after work. Spending some time in the sun can boost serotonin levels (8).
The more serotonin produced during the day, the more is converted to melatonin late in the evening. Accordingly, it will also be a little easier for you to sleep in the evening.
Find the calm
In order to fall asleep we need rest. Noise or bright light disturb the peace. If you live on a busy street, it can be helpful to close the window at night. If that doesn't dampen the noise quite as well, you can also use earplugs.
Exciting activities, such as all kinds of sporting activities, thrilling computer games or very exciting films can increase the heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. It can even cause stress. So it is important not to do these things right before going to bed because the body needs time to calm down.
A cup of coffee can be very enticing, but one should consider how long the effects of caffeine last. Caffeine takes effect after 30 minutes and travels through the blood throughout the body. The effect lasts for a full 4 hours. (Image Source: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash)
For example, you could meditate or read a book before bed. It might also be helpful to have a bedtime ritual. With this you can put your body into sleep mode. Rituals could be: a fixed time to sleep, relaxation exercises or drinking a cup of hop tea.
Taking an afternoon nap may also make it harder to fall asleep. That means you've had enough sleep. If you can't skip your nap completely, you can try a 10-minute power nap.
Another way to increase melatonin levels is through food. However, melatonin only has a small share in food. Some plant-based foods such as pistachios or cranberries have a higher melatonin content.
Cherries, salmon, milk, and also beans can help.
Before going to bed, you should absolutely avoid any alcohol, coffee and caffeinated beverages. Caffeine inhibits fatigue, which is not surprising information (7).
Heavy food or a large meal should also not be eaten directly before bed. The body has to work harder to digest the food. Dishes with carbohydrates and proteins are easier to digest than fatty dishes.
If you have trouble falling asleep, taking melatonin can be very helpful. When taking melatonin, it is very important to pay attention to the dosage. More is not always more! Only with the right dose can you get the best effect from melatonin.
The wrong dosage could also quickly backfire. The right dose makes the right effect. With the wrong dose of melatonin, the effect can spill over into the day and therefore involve dangerous risks.
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- Zhao ZC, Zhou Y, Tan G, & Li J (2018). Research progress on the effect and prevention of blue light on eyes. International journal of ophthalmology, 11(12), 1999-2003. https://doi.org/10.18240/ijo.2018.12.20
- Cornelis MC (2019). The Impact of Caffeine and Coffee on Human Health. Nutrients, 11(2), 416. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11020416
- Young SN (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN, 32(6), 394-399.
- Grandner MA (2017). Sleep, Health, and Society. Sleep medicine clinics, 12(1), 1-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2016.10.012
- Obochi GO, Amali OO, Ochalefu DO. Effect of melatonin and caffeine interaction on caffeine induced oxidative stress and sleep disorders. Niger J Physiol Sci. 2010 Nov 24;25(1):17-24. PMID: 22314898.