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What are the Pros and Cons of a Melatonin Sleep Aid?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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One of the most common uses of melatonin is as a sleep aid. The benefits of this supplement are to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, lengthen the sleeping time, and to reduce jet lag by resetting the body to a normal sleep cycle within a different time zone. Negative side effects include feeling sleepy during the day, dizziness, headaches, upset stomach, irritability, nighttime disorientation, sleepwalking, and nightmares.

To optimize sleeping benefits, melatonin is typically taken between 30 minutes and one hour before bed. It can help reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and to help people stay asleep longer than normal. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the body to help maintain the sleep-wake cycle, and taking synthetic supplements can be used to trick the body into overcoming jet lag. As sunlight diminishes, the body produces more melatonin to prepare the body for sleep. When changing time zones, a person who takes the compound just a few hours before he wants to go to sleep for the first few days of a trip can help bluff the body into feeling sleepy when it would normally be awake.

Most of the problems associated with melatonin are dose related and can be alleviated by taking less. These issues are present only when the sleep aid is first started and disappear when the person stops taking the supplement. It can cause nighttime confusion, disorientation when waking up, sleepwalking, and nightmares. Problems that can occur during the day are irritability, dizziness, upset stomach, and feeling sleepy during the daytime. The best way for individuals to prevent these side effects is to start at a low dose and gradually increase the amount until the supplement becomes helpful.

The optimal dose of melatonin will maximize the benefits and minimize the side effects, but it can be difficult for people to figure out exactly how much to take. It is best for people who are considering taking this sleep aid to consult with a medical professional to get a minimum and maximum dose range, and then start at the low dose and gradually increase until a benefit is reached. A variety of concentrations are available, making it possible to gradually increase the dose. Supplements made from animals may contain viruses, so a melatonin sleep aid should only be made from synthetic ingredients.

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Discussion Comments
By stl156 — On Jan 11, 2012

@kentuckycat - Yeah I feel like melatonin is very effective, but only in certain circumstances and it does not work for every person.

I think that melatonin is good for people that have problems falling asleep and not necessarily staying asleep. Most sleep aids keep you asleep and this is not what a lot of people's problems are.

However, that being said some side effects of taking melatonin can occur, like sleep paralysis, that will frighten people that are not used to these types of symptoms due to their own sleeping problems.

Really I would say it would be best to consult a doctor and see if melatonin is right, but to be totally honest I think it is OK for me because I have problems falling asleep and it really helps me.

By kentuckycat — On Jan 10, 2012

I have severe problems sleeping sometimes and I have taken sleeping medication in the past and have found that melatonin has worked best for me and my chronic insomnia.

I have issues and concerns with taking sleeping pills, mostly due to the side effects, and I have found very little problems taking melatonin.

I have seen people say that they awoke with sleep paralysis and I will say that is fairly scary, but it comes simply because someone was awaken from a deep sleep and this would probably come if they were taking sleeping pills also. It only means that it is working and you are not having issues falling asleep while taking this.

To be honest I would recommend melatonin over other sleep aids simply because it is pretty safe and I have found it to be enormously effective in combating my sleep difficulties.

By andee — On Jan 09, 2012

I have tried several OTC sleep aids and the melatonin seems to work the most consistently for me.

If I am in pain, I will take a pain reliever that also has a sleep aid in it, but usually I just need something to help me fall asleep.

When I take the melatonin, I have the best results if I take it about 15 minutes before I begin my bedtime routine.

Once I am done with that, I am ready to unwind and I can drift off quickly. If I take it too soon before going to bed, it doesn't seem to work as well.

As soon as I head upstairs to the bedroom, it's like my body knows the day is over and time to unwind. The times I have taken the melatonin and then worked on the computer for an hour, I have never had the same results.

By bagley79 — On Jan 09, 2012

@SarahSon - I have found a couple natural remedies that work for me. One of them is taking an herbal supplement that contains the herb Valerian.

Most of the time I take this, I can relax and sleep through the night. I also don't feel tired or groggy the next day.

Another thing that helps me is putting some lavender essential oil on the bottom of my feet before going to bed. This doesn't seem to work as fast as the Valerian, but I eventually relax enough to fall asleep.

I have also taken melatonin before, but didn't like the way I felt in the morning. It also quit working for me after several weeks of taking it every day.

That is the most frustrating thing I have found with any sleep aid I have used. They work pretty good for a few days, then they seem to stop working.

If I am having trouble sleeping, I try to rotate different natural remedies so I get the best results.

I also try to only take something when I absolutely need it. By giving myself more time to unwind or reading a book before bed, I find I don't need to rely on a supplement as often.

By SarahSon — On Jan 09, 2012

I know a lot of people my age who have a hard time sleeping anymore. For some they can't fall asleep, and for others, they keep waking up throughout the night.

Either way, you are left feeling tired, exhausted and irritable. I am scared of taking prescription sleep aids because of the potential side effects. I also don't want to become dependent on medication to help me sleep.

Are there any good natural herbal sleep aids that work without the bad side effects. I know some people consider melatonin natural, but many people seem to have bad side effects with that too.

By sunshined — On Jan 08, 2012

Any time I am away from home for any reason, I have a hard time going to sleep. Because of this, I always pack some sleep aid melatonin to help me relax and fall asleep.

Once I am asleep I usually sleep all night, but if I don't take the melatonin, I can't relax. I just lay there awake half the night and can hardly function the next day.

My husband doesn't like to take it because it makes him feel groggy the next day. It has the opposite effect for me. I wake up feeling rested and ready to tackle the day.

By orangey03 — On Jan 07, 2012

@shell4life – I guess melatonin's effects can vary drastically. I started taking it after a traumatic experience, and it only made things worse for me.

I had been held at gunpoint, kidnapped, and beaten. The cops found me and I recovered physically, but mentally was another story. I could no longer sleep at night.

I tried melatonin, but it gave me vivid nightmares. I took it for three nights, and each night, I had vivid dreams about being taken. It was like reliving the experience all over again.

However, I did recall some important information about my attacker during these detailed dreams. I provided this to the police, and they were able to find him. So, maybe melatonin isn't so bad, after all.

By seag47 — On Jan 06, 2012

I took melatonin on my first day of vacation. I had flown into a different time zone, and I needed some rest so that I would be refreshed and ready to enjoy the island.

Melatonin worked so well that I slept for thirteen hours! I was upset that I had missed out on hours of vacation time.

To make matters worse, when I did wake up, I was groggy and dizzy. I had a headache the rest of the day, and all I wanted to do was go somewhere dark and sleep it off.

I didn't take any more of it while I was there. Luckily, I felt better the next morning and was able to enjoy the rest of my vacation.

By shell4life — On Jan 06, 2012

I had a lot of trouble sleeping after my best friend died. I would lay awake at night grieving, and when I did manage to doze off, I awoke in terror each time.

I started taking melatonin as a last resort. I knew it might have side effects, but I was willing to do anything after months of sleeplessness.

It helped me get hours of uninterrupted sleep, and I quit having nightmares. I slept so deeply that my inner pain faded a little each night. It would come back to me in the day, but they say that sleep helps your mind heal itself, and over time, I got a lot better because of melatonin.

By kylee07drg — On Jan 05, 2012

@alisha – Sleep paralysis is terrifying! I also experienced this after taking melatonin, and it was worse than any regular nightmare I have had.

I was having a dream that my husband was about to leave for work, but I knew that he would have a wreck along the way. I was the only one who could stop him from going, yet I couldn't move!

I tried screaming and flopping around, but I could not do anything. In my dream, he walked out the door, and I finally woke myself up trying to scream.

At that point, I realized that I had been dreaming. However, it made my heart race and traumatized me, so I quit taking melatonin.

By bear78 — On Jan 04, 2012

I agree that melatonin is the best sleep aid. I work night-shift and need to sleep during the day. It's been months since this routine started but I still haven't been able to adapt to it. Coffee keeps me going at work but I can't seem to sleep in the morning. I'm avoiding sleep drugs because they give me heart palpitations.

For the past two days I've been taking 5mg of melatonin supplements in slow-release capsules. The first day, I slept five hours and for six hours yesterday. This is a huge improvement for me! I was lucky if I got one or two hours before.

I did read on a forum that long-term use and high dosages of melatonin have side effects like the ones people mentioned here. I've just started so I don't know what going to happen after a month or two. I plan on taking it regularly if I can. The side effect I'm most worried about is depression. I have a history of depression and apparently long-term use of melatonin can trigger it. I hope that doesn't happen.

Has anyone experienced depression due to melatonin supplements? If so, how long were you taking it for and what was the dose?

By discographer — On Jan 04, 2012

I took melatonin for sleep for one month and then quit. It did help me sleep but I had terrible nightmares every single night that I took it, in addition to sleep paralysis and false awakenings.

I would have a nightmare and then think that I woke up from it but wouldn't be able to move my body. I was actually not awake but dreaming. This would happen several times in a row in one night until I finally did wake up. But then I would experience sleep paralysis for a few minutes until I could actually get up.

These symptoms started showing up after 2 weeks of regularly taking melatonin and became really intense by the end of the month. I finally had to stop taking it because it was ruining my mood for the remainder of the day.

By ddljohn — On Jan 03, 2012

Melatonin is great. It works much better than over-the-counter sleep aids and I don't get that 'out of place' feeling that I get with over-the-counter medications.

I haven't had much side effects with melatonin but I take a very small dose. I take 3 mg half an hour before I plan to go to bed. I fall asleep very quickly and don't wake up until my alarm goes off.

I have noticed that I dream more when I take melatonin, or maybe I dream the same amount but I remember my dreams much more than I do usually. It's not a problem but my dreams are really vivid and sometimes it takes me a couple of minutes to get out of their effect when I wake up. Thankfully I don't have any nightmares or sleep-walking though.

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