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These higher doses are better at promoting the rapid onset of sleep, and as such are preferable to lower doses in sleep-onset disorders like insomnia. A: Most scientific research on melatonin takes one of two approaches: either melatonin is taken 30 minutes before bedtime, or melatonin is taken at the same time every night (generally 30-60 minutes before your typical bedtime). While just taking melatonin 30 minutes before bed is a lot easier and more practical, there are some theoretical justifications for taking it at the same time every night. These arguments are related to the circadian rhythm, the natural biological clock of your body.

Getting high-quality sleep is a lot easier if your body’s clock is in sync with the 24-hour actual clock cycle, and taking melatonin at the same time every night helps enforce this requirement. A: Melatonin is a hormone that many animals (not just humans) use as a regulator of their day/night cycle. When the circadian cycle is properly regulated, melatonin levels are high at night, and low during the day. Levels of melatonin in the blood, give your body information about the length of the night. When melatonin levels are disrupted, as can happen in sleep disorders and in older adults as a part of the aging process, sleep gets disrupted—your body is confused about whether it should be asleep or not. In jet lag, the change in time zones results in the rise and fall of melatonin levels getting uncoupled from the dark/light cycle of the natural day. In these cases, melatonin can help reset and harmonize the light/dark and melatonin level cycles.

A: While most experts recommend taking melatonin 30-60 minutes prior to bed (or at the same time every night, with the idea that you’ll be in bed about half an hour to one hour later), melatonin levels don’t actually reach peak concentration in your blood until about 1.3 to 1.9 hours after taking a melatonin supplement ( 8 ). This delay can be longer if you are taking an extended-release formula, but that’s the explicit intent of the extended release formulations. You don’t actually want peak melatonin levels to occur when you are awake; you want them to coincide with when your body is entering the deeper stages of sleep. A: Melatonin has an elimination half-life of between one and two hours, depending on the study. What this means is that, after melatonin levels have reached a peak in the blood, they’ll decrease by 50% every one to two hours. This means that, after a melatonin dose of 5 mg, you’ll experience blood levels above the typical concentration of melatonin for about seven to nine hours. A higher dose will last for a longer time, as you might guess. Some researchers caution that high doses of melatonin, circa 10 to 12 mg, may last too long, causing grogginess and sleepiness that lasts into the next day. A: From a dosage standpoint, there is no good justification based on the scientific literature for doses above around 5 or possibly 10 mg. Higher doses are not harmful, though there is some argument that they may cause drowsiness that lasts past when you wake up the next morning. A: Melatonin is used to correct disturbances in sleep cycles, and is primarily used by people with a few different types of sleep disturbances. The first of these applications is as a treatment for insomnia: people who have trouble falling asleep sometimes have a dysregulated circadian cycle, and in these cases, melatonin can help restore regularity to the circadian rhythm. Older adults are another population who often struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep at night, as a result of the natural decrease in melatonin levels that occurs as you get older. Melatonin has been researched heavily as a way to improve sleep quality in older adults, since it helps restore necessary levels of melatonin in the blood at night. Finally, melatonin is used to treat jet lag, since crossing many time zones can push the light/dark cycle of the outside world out of sync with the rise and fall of melatonin levels in your body. Taking exogenous melatonin can help re-synchronize these cycles. A: Despite the reputation and the common-sense association between sleep medications and overdosing (“if you take too much, will you ever wake up?”), melatonin has an incredibly strong safety profile. It is not possible to overdose on melatonin—some case reports have discussed people who have even intentionally attempted to overdose on melatonin, taking hundreds of milligrams of melatonin, with no apparent effects aside from drowsiness lasting for a few hours ( 9 ). Research in animals has been unable to create melatonin-induced overdose, even with preposterously high dosages (far more than a human could ever consume). Some clinical research has even tested doses of melatonin of up to 50 mg per kilogram of body weight , again reporting no abnormal effects beyond the expected drowsiness (it is, after all, a sleep aid).

A: In your body, melatonin is synthesized by the pineal gland, a small structure in your brain. From here, it enters your blood and helps signal the start and end of the dark/light cycle. However, melatonin in a melatonin supplement is not harvested from animals—the chemical structure of melatonin is fairly simple, so it can be synthesized relatively easily starting from smaller chemical compounds, a procedure which has been common since melatonin was first synthesized in a chemistry lab in 1958. One beneficial upside of this is that melatonin is vegetarian and vegan-friendly (assuming the capsules you are using are not gelatin-based, of course). Melatonin, when used correctly, can be a very effective way to improve sleep quality, help with insomnia (especially as you age), and treat or prevent the negative effects of jet lag.

The most effective dosage of melatonin is in the range of 0.5 to 5 mg, based on clinical research. Doses in this range are equally effective when it comes to promoting sleep quality, though higher doses are better at promoting the onset of sleep (i.e. For best results, take melatonin within half an hour of when you go to bed—for travelers, note that this is your intended bedtime at your destination , so 10pm London time if you’re flying from New York to London.

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