How to Find the Best Melatonin for You
Melatonin has been a lifesaver for me and chances are good that it can help you if you’re having trouble sleeping.
This article explains how Melatonin works, how to use it, and how to find the best type of Melatonin to solve your sleep problem.
Melatonin can’t solve every sleep problem but when it works it really works! If you have trouble getting to sleep on time or staying asleep, it’s worth trying.
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.
What’s the Best Type of Melatontin?
Melatonin generally comes in four varieties: Time release pills, liquid that delivers via a medicine dropper, regular pills you swallow, and ‘Sublingual’ pills that you put under your tongue. The time release pills mix melatonin with a slow-dissolving substance that ensures the drug is slowly delivered to your body over the course of a few hours. At this time none of the manufacturers I’m aware of will tell us how quickly the melatonin is released. The benefit from time release pills is they might help you stay asleep once you fall asleep. Sublingual tablets are meant to dissolve quickly under your tongue. The melatonin is absorbed by the blood vessels in your mouth and starts working very quickly. Between regular pills, liquid melatonin, and sublingual tablets, sublingual definitely starts working the fastest. Regular pills and liquid melatonin will start working in about 30 minutes, however, so I’m not sure that’s a big advantage. The big plus for liquid melatonin is that you can measure out the perfect dose to make sure you’re not taking too much, or too little. You can also drop it into bedtime tea to make a true Sleepytime tea, which is a nice way to get ready for bed.
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 melatonin pill you might not want to split is a time-release pill that uses a coating, but most of them don’t. If you’re splitting a time release pill and you see that it doesn’t have a special coating, you should be good to go. 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.
Additional Health Benefits of Melatonin
Besides improving sleep, Melatonin has been shown to extend the lives of some cancer patients and dramatically extend the lives of animals in studies. We don’t know whether this is because subjects in the test were sleeping better, or because of an anti-oxidant effect that comes from Melatonin, but there are strong results pointing to additional health benefits. Additionally, Melatonin has been shown to improve recovery from jet lag and most interestingly, improve memory in elderly subjects whose memories were slipping. Check out this article for summaries of the research.
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