Most insomniacs I’ve met dismiss melatonin 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 melatonin 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 It 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 oral melatonin 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 is an author and journalist.She began her career as a teacher, capped off when she authored a pair of ESL textbooks with her husband. She then became a journalist, working both freelance and as a staff reporter and features writer. She has written about Latino affairs, education, government, health, social issues, exercise, and food. While reporting in Pennsylvania, she won a Keystone Press Award and awards from the Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association. Her stories have been picked up by the Associated Press.

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