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Can Melatonin Help You Sleep?

Melatonin is available over the counter as a nutritional supplement. Can taking melatonin help with insomnia or jet lag? Nutrition Diva reviews the evidence.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #317

Although I can't give you medical advice in this podcast, I can offer you my personal opinion: Given the proven consequences of sleep deprivation - which include everything from weight gain to depression to increased risk of accidents - if a small amount of melatonin helps you sleep better, the benefits would seem to outweigh any potential risks. However, I would still use it conservatively: only if it helps, only when needed, and only in the recommended dose. And be sure to check with your doctor before taking any new supplements.

Who Should Not Take Melatonin?

I don't recommend taking melatonin if you're pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant. Melatonin can also interact with common medications, including antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, and anti-coagulants (or blood thinners). Check with your pharmacist before mixing melatonin with any prescription medication.

And finally, taking melatonin isn't a replacement for following these basic rules of sleep hygiene:

  • making enough time for sleep
  • sleeping on a regular schedule
  • avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed
  • turning off the electronics a couple of hours before you go to sleep
  • eliminating noise and light pollution in the bedroom
  • getting enough exercise
  • dealing constructively with things that are causing psychological or emotional stress

In fact, melatonin will probably work a lot better when used as part of a comprehensive approach to improving sleep rather than as a magic bullet.

For more good advice for improving your sleep, see these great resources from my Quick and Dirty Tips colleagues. And if you're reading this at 3am, here are some strategies from the Savvy Psychologist on how to get back to sleep right now.

References

Bendz LM, Scates AC. Melatonin treatment for insomnia in pediatric patients with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Ann Pharmacother. 2010 Jan;44(1):185-91.

Costello RB, Lentino CV, et al. The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutr J. 2014 Nov 7;13:106. 

Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD001520. 

Pigeon WR, Carr M, et al.  Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):579-83.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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