melatonin taken early in the evening more effective than if taken at bedtimeMost insomniacs I’ve met dismiss melatonin supplements as useless, and with good reason. If you follow directions and take the melatonin an hour before bedtime, it’s little more than a sugar pill.

But taking a melatonin supplement several hours before bedtime may give you better results.

Last night I had a chance to test this out. I was flying back to Ann Arbor from California, which meant I was losing 3 hours in my day. Normally I have a hard time shrinking my day by just one hour, as occurs when daylight savings time begins in the spring. I go around feeling logy and sleep-deprived for a couple days. Eastward travel across multiple time zones is even harder. Getting adjusted without sleeping pills is practically impossible!

But yesterday instead of waiting until bedtime to take a sleeping pill, I took melatonin at dinnertime while I was still on the plane. I felt alert through the rest of the flight. Then I drove home, unpacked, and read the Sunday paper.

It was around 11 p.m. that I started feeling sleepy. Forty-five minutes later I was down for the count and slept through the night until 5:30, my normal wake-up time. And this morning I feel good.

How Melatonin Works

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. Secretion typically starts a few hours before your normal bedtime and ends about the time you wake up. In most cases, adding to your body’s natural melatonin by taking a melatonin supplement at bedtime is redundant. Your body has no use for it then.

To fall asleep earlier than you’d normally be ready for sleep, you’ve got to take the melatonin well before your natural melatonin cycle begins. Clinical trials with 3 mg. of melatonin have shown that taking a tablet 7 hours before your established bedtime will advance the timing of your sleep the greatest amount.

In my case, since I’d been going to bed in California around 10 p.m. PST, I took the melatonin yesterday at 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST). And last night I fell asleep more than an hour earlier than I would have otherwise.

Melatonin won’t help you sleep longer, and it won’t necessarily improve the quality of your sleep. But it may well help you get to sleep sooner if you take it late in the afternoon or early in the evening. Timing seems to be the key.

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.


  1. Can melatonin induce a jetlag like effect if taken at the wrong time? I took melatonin at 2am, an hour past my bedtime (1am) out of panic of missing my bedtime. Ive had trouble sleeping at my bedtime for a few days since.



    1. Hello Ruel,

      Most likely the melatonin you took at 2 a.m. had very little effect on your sleep—unless it caused you to sleep in past your normal rise time. When you hit a rough patch with your sleep, try to keep getting up at the usual time every morning. Soon your body will re-establish its regular rhythm again.

      Melatonin does not work like a sleeping pill. At 2 a.m., your body is already secreting melatonin, and adding to that is simply redundant. Your body can’t use it. Melatonin is a chronobiotic, and what it can do is shift sleep forward if taken several hours before bedtime. I’ve written quite a few blog posts about it, and you may find them helpful if you haven’t already read them:

      Best of luck in returning to your normal sleep schedule either tonight or very soon.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s