Roughly 50-70% of Americans are affected by poor sleep. The modern world seems practically designed to distract one from a regular sleep schedule — with everything from car interiors shining with sleep-disrupting blue light to hyper-bright televisions, the ease of climbing into bed with a smart phone in hand for that infinite social media scroll, or the simple social expectation that we should all work later into the evening — how do you keep your sleep/wake cycles regulated? Enter: Melatonin.
What is Melatonin?
In short, melatonin is a hormone that lets your body know when it’s time to hit the hay. It regulates your body’s sleep/wake cycle so you can get to sleep when it becomes dark out. While your body naturally makes and regulates melatonin (mainly in the brain’s pineal gland), it is sometimes important (and relatively commonplace these days) to take a melatonin supplement to help your body readjust and get back on track! Unlike neurotransmitters that act as inhibitors like GABA, helping you relax and wind down, melatonin works in tandem with your body’s circadian rhythm to let you know that it’s time for sleep.
Melatonin levels can be negatively affected by a number of outside influences including:
- too much artificial evening light exposure
- not getting enough natural light exposure during the day
- irregular sleep schedules
Melatonin levels naturally start to rise in the body when it becomes dark outside, but light pollution and the well-lit devices of the modern home can act in direct contrast to your body’s natural melatonin production. (Hot Tip: If you always keep lights on in the evening, try switching to candles for a more natural, low light!)
Taking melatonin for sleep can help you get back to regulating your natural circadian rhythm and getting a decent night of sleep without having to drastically change your lifestyle — sometimes it's impossible for you to choose your work schedule or turn off the streetlight directly outside of your bedroom window — a regulated melatonin dosage is here to help.
Can You Take Too Much Melatonin?
Okay, so you’re ready to try melatonin supplements to help you normalize your internal clock and get a healthy amount of quality deep sleep. Congratulations on taking the initiative! Now… how much should you take? How much melatonin is too much?
Melatonin supplements vary wildly on their dosages, ranging from less than 1mg to as high as a whopping 60mg. With numbers like that, how do you know what’s right for you? Furthermore, how do you know what’s safe?
Research shows that the best practices for melatonin dosage is to start on the lower side and work your way up, but only if you need to.
How to Find the Right Amount？
If you’re afraid of taking too much melatonin, start with a smaller dose. Take 0.2mg to 3mg in the early evening, around an hour and a half before bedtime, and steer clear of larger doses (anything over 3mg). When it comes to melatonin, more is not necessarily better — and starting with a smaller dose will allow you to feel out how your body reacts to the hormone so you can gradually increase or decrease your dosage accordingly. Here are some helpful hints:
Consider taking melatonin if: you have occasional sleepless nights or trouble falling asleep, have a sleep schedule with variations of more than one hour, or are experiencing jet lag that you can’t re-adjust from.
Increase your dose if: you’re still having trouble falling asleep within 20-30 minutes of climbing in bed or continuing difficulty staying asleep. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night and have a difficult time falling back asleep, you might want to increase your dosage.
Decrease your dose if: you feel any of the melatonin overdose symptoms listed below, feel groggy when you wake up the next morning after a full night of sleep, or are experiencing overly vivid dreams.
Can You Overdose from Too Much Melatonin?
The clearest indicator of how much melatonin is too much is experiencing any of the symptoms of a melatonin overdose. Don’t worry — melatonin is extremely unlikely to hurt you in the short run and is not known to be a potential cause of death, but it’s important to remember to use caution when taking over-the-counter supplements and hormones. Just because it is easily available does not indicate that it’s okay to take in excess amounts. Start low and work your way up if you need to.
It can be difficult to define an intake amount that triggers melatonin overdose because there is not a standard amount that works for everybody. A general rule of thumb: too much melatonin essentially has the opposite effect of what a proper dose does. It can make it harder to sleep when you take too much because your normal circadian rhythms get further disrupted, and you can experience a number of additional melatonin side effects. Some common symptoms of too much melatonin are:
- Inability to fall asleep
According to the Mayo Clinic, “less common melatonin side effects might include short-lasting feelings of depression, mild tremor, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, reduced alertness, confusion or disorientation, and abnormally low blood pressure (hypotension).”
Despite all this, there’s little reason to be alarmed about the safety of taking melatonin for sleep. It is so safe that pediatricians use it frequently to address sleep issues in children, and most adults who take the supplement never experience dependency or any overdose symptoms.
Hit the Hay the Same Time Each Day
Melatonin is necessary for sleep. It’s one of the links in a long chain of reactions our bodies go through to get from the full alertness of daytime to the comfortable, deep sleep of nighttime. Serotonin levels, natural melatonin production, and a host of naturally-occurring regulatory neurotransmitters and amino acids all contribute to our body’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night — unfortunately there isn’t one single cure-all.
Having trouble falling asleep at the same time every night? Give a melatonin supplement a try! Just remember to start low and work your way up — the last thing you want is for your sleep supplement to give you a worse night of sleep!