How Much Melatonin Is Really in That Supplement?

Supplementary melatonin is the fourth most popular natural product used by adults in the United States and the second most popular given to children.

But supplements like melatonin are not subject to the same quality controls as prescription medications. A new study of melatonin sold over-the-counter shows that information on the label often does not reflect the content of the product.

Melatonin content may differ from amount listed on labelSupplementary melatonin is the fourth most popular natural product used by adults in the United States and the second most popular natural product given to children. It can change the timing of sleep, ease jet lag, and help night owls shift to an earlier sleep schedule. Occasionally it’s used to correct a melatonin deficiency, or for insomnia (although for insomnia it’s unlikely to yield much benefit).

But supplements like melatonin are not subject to the same quality controls as prescription medications. A new study of melatonin sold over-the-counter shows that information on the label often does not reflect the content of the product. Here are the details:

Testing for Melatonin and Serotonin

The researchers tested the contents of 30 different melatonin supplements sold in Canada (likely similar to melatonin sold in the United States). Among them were products with 16 different brand names (the names were not published), in 5 different strengths, and in 7 different formulations, some containing herbal additives and others without. They wanted to see how closely the amount of melatonin listed on the label matched the melatonin content of the actual supplement.

They also screened for serotonin. Serotonin is a precursor of melatonin found in the herbal extracts with which commercial melatonin is often combined.

Variation in Melatonin Content

Holy cow! The actual melatonin content of the supplements varied quite a lot from the content listed on the labels. Some labels overstated the amount of melatonin contained in the product. The worst offender here was a capsule listed as containing 3 mg of melatonin that actually contained about 0.5 mg.

Other labels greatly underrepresented the amount of melatonin in the product. The worst offender here was a chewable tablet listed as containing 1.5 mg of melatonin that actually contained nearly 9 mg. (This is particularly concerning since chewable tablets are most often taken by children.)

Not only was the melatonin content of the product off by more than 10% of the listed content in about 71% of the products tested. As shocking as this may seem, the melatonin content varied widely from lot to lot of the same product. While the first lot of the chewable tablets cited above contained nearly 9 mg of melatonin, the second lot contained only 1.3 mg. That’s a variation of 465%.

Variation Could Be a Problem

Does the dose of melatonin you take matter? To some extent, yes, say the authors of a commentary on the study. Suboptimal doses might be ineffective. Taking too low a dose might lead you to believe melatonin didn’t work when a higher dose would.

Higher-than-advisable doses could lead to undesirable side effects. Too high a dose would be risky for people taking medications that interact with melatonin, or those who are pregnant or have diabetes. And the long-term effects of supplementary melatonin on prepubertal children are still unknown.

Overall Conclusions

So what are we to do with this information in light of the fact that the researchers haven’t revealed the names of the products they studied? Here’s a summary of what they learned, which, if you take or are contemplating taking melatonin, is worth consideration.

  • The least variable products overall were those containing the simplest mix of ingredients: the tablets or sublingual tablets with melatonin added to a filler. Apparently, added herbal extracts tend to make products more variable.
  • Except for the chewable tablet cited above, capsules generally showed the greatest lot-to-lot variability in melatonin content. (However, the melatonin content of some capsules was within 10% of the content listed on the label).
  • Unexpectedly, the three liquid products tested showed fairly high stability and low lot-to-lot variability.
  • The melatonin content of products listed as containing 1 or 1.5 mg of melatonin was quite a bit more likely to diverge from what was claimed than were products listed as containing higher doses. Products purportedly containing 1.5 mg of melatonin were also quite a bit more variable from lot to lot.

Unlisted Serotonin

Eight of the 30 products tested contained unlisted serotonin. While the presence of serotonin is hard to explain in supplements containing just melatonin and a filler, it might be expected in supplements containing herbal extracts. In one such product, a capsule listed as containing 3 mg of melatonin plus lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm, the serotonin content was assessed at 74 micrograms.

Serotonin raises significant health concerns if taken in excess, the Canadian authors say. It can lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome, which can be mild or fatal and “exacerbated by interactions with other medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and the analgesic tramadol.”

I’d like to see the content of supplementary melatonin sold in the U.S. tested and reviewed by brand and formulation. ConsumerLab? Otherwise for people using over-the-counter melatonin (or interested in trying it) it’s a kind of Wild West situation when it comes to knowing which brand to buy. Pharmacists and doctors who prescribe melatonin may be better informed. Comments?

Traveling With Insomnia: Don’t Let Jet Lag Spoil the Trip!

Do your summer plans include eastbound, transatlantic travel? If so, take precautions to avoid jet lag—the sleepy, sluggish, headachy feeling and insomnia that can seriously curtail your enjoyment of the first few days.

Here’s advice on how to prevent severe jet lag and hit the ground ready for action.

Managing light exposure and use of melatonin can curb travel-related insomnia & jet lagDo your summer plans include eastbound, transatlantic travel? If so, take precautions to avoid jet lag—the sleepy, sluggish, headachy feeling and insomnia that can seriously curtail your enjoyment of the first few days.

Here’s advice on how to prevent severe jet lag and hit the ground ready for action.

Why Jet Lag Occurs

Body processes occur in a 24-hour cycle tuned to daylight and darkness in the time zone where you live. Eastbound travel over multiple zones is a challenge. To adapt to time in the new zone, your body clock has to advance by several hours. For many people, achieving this phase advance is harder than the delay that occurs with westward travel.

Symptoms of jet lag are more pronounced in some people than in others. But the more time zones crossed, the more severe the symptoms usually are. Jet lag symptoms also seem to grow worse with age. And although I have no hard evidence, I think people with insomnia, who have to be careful about scheduling their sleep anyway, may have more trouble adjusting to changes in distant time zones. I know I do.

Exposure to Light: Get It Right

Your biggest help or hindrance to adjusting to the new time will be the sun. To calculate whether to step right out into the sunlight when you deplane or wear dark glasses during the first few hours of the trip, consider these things:

  • Time of arrival at your destination
  • Time difference between where you live and where you’re going
  • Time you normally get up in the morning

Your habitual rise time matters because of what it implies about daily changes in your core body temperature. Your temperature reaches a low point about 2 hours before you normally get up. Light exposure after your normal temperature low is going to advance your sleep cycle, which is what you want if you’re traveling east. Light exposure before that normal temperature low is going to delay your sleep cycle, making it even harder to adjust to time in a distant eastward zone.

Two Examples

Let’s say you live in the eastern time zone of the U.S., which is 5 hours behind London time. You book a night flight, leaving at 11 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and arriving in London at 11 a.m. British Summer Time (BST). Let’s say you typically get up 6:30 a.m., so your body temperature low would fall around 4:30 a.m. Your arrival time—11 a.m. BST, which is 6 a.m. EDT—occurs after your normal temperature low. Immediate exposure to sunlight upon landing will help adjust your body clock to British Summer Time.

But let’s say you book an earlier flight, leaving at 8 p.m. EDT and arriving at 8 a.m. BST—which is 3 a.m. EDT. This flight would get you into Heathrow before your normal body temperature low of 4:30 a.m. Immediate exposure to daylight upon arrival will push your sleep–wake cycle even further out of sync with the new time than it would otherwise be. This will make your jet lag worse.

If your flight arrives before your core body temperature low, keep plane shades drawn and wear dark glasses until you’re past the time of your normal temperature low. Only then is it going to work to your advantage to expose yourself fully to daylight.

Melatonin Supplements Can Help

Taking a melatonin supplement (sold over the counter in the U.S.) is another jet lag remedy, especially for travel across 5 or more time zones. Your body itself produces melatonin starting a few hours before your normal bedtime in physiological levels of about 0.3 mg. According to a 2015 review in Current Sports Medicine Reports, both low (0.5 mg) and high (3 to 5 mg) doses of supplemental melatonin—taken 1 to 4 hours before the desired bedtime at your destination—can advance the sleep cycle, which should help to prevent jet lag symptoms associated with eastbound travel.

Higher doses may put you to sleep sooner. They may also result in a “hangover” the next day. Melatonin has not been found to have other side effects in healthy human beings. But it is not recommended for people with epilepsy or those taking warfarin.

Comfort During Your Trip

No diet has been scientifically proven to reduce jet lag. Caffeinated beverages can of course perk you up when you’re flagging, but if you want to avoid some of the stomach upset associated with travel, remember in general to (a) stay well hydrated with nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated beverages on the plane and (b) eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Anecdotal evidence coming out of Harvard suggests that fasting immediately prior to and during a flight, and then eating at the soonest mealtime after landing, may reduce symptoms of jet lag.

With that, I’ll wish you bon voyage and plenty of restorative sleep to power you through your trip!

Sleep and Health Benefits of Melatonin

As a treatment for chronic insomnia, melatonin supplements disappoint. Internal secretion of melatonin, the hormone of darkness, begins to rise some two hours before you fall asleep. Adding to it with a melatonin supplement is often redundant.

But there’s increasing evidence that melatonin supplementation is effective for some sleep problems and may also help to treat and/or avert serious health conditions. Here’s a summary of the benefits.

Melatonin ineffective for insomnia but effective for other sleep problemsAs a treatment for chronic insomnia, melatonin supplements disappoint. Internal secretion of melatonin, the hormone of darkness, begins to rise some two hours before you fall asleep. Adding to it with a melatonin supplement is often redundant.

But there’s increasing evidence that melatonin supplementation is effective for some sleep problems and may also help to treat and/or avert serious health conditions. Here’s a summary of the benefits.

Shifting the Timing of Sleep

Supplementary melatonin can be used as a chronobiotic—an agent that brings about a phase adjustment of the body clock. It can shift the timing (but not the duration) of your sleep. So it’s an effective therapeutic in at least two situations:

  1. As a jet lag remedy: Eastward travel across several time zones is difficult. Your body clock has to shift forward several hours until sleep syncs up with darkness in the new time zone. A melatonin tablet taken before a late afternoon or early evening departure (together with reduced light exposure) may help to initiate this phase advance and serve as a jet lag remedy. From day 1 you’ll fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier, starting out on the right foot.
  2. As a maintenance therapy for night owls: If you come alive in the evening and can’t get to sleep till 2 or 3 a.m., chances are your body clock runs late. Instead of completing a daily period every 24 hours, a daily period for you may be closer to 25 hours and even longer. The medical diagnosis for this problem is delayed sleep phase disorder, or DSPD. People with DSPD have a tough time getting up for early morning classes and work. The solution is twofold: bright light exposure in the morning and a daily melatonin supplement taken around dinnertime. (For details see this blog post on DSPD.) Recently, melatonin was found to be quite effective in helping adolescent night owls fall asleep earlier so they could rise ‘n’ shine in time for early morning classes.

Correcting a Melatonin Deficiency

Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland. It helps to create the relatively strong biological rhythms that put you to sleep and keep you sleeping through the night. But melatonin rhythms can weaken with age. The following may be involved:

  • degeneration of neurons in the body clock
  • deterioration of neurons connected to the pineal gland
  • calcification of the pineal gland

All of these factors are associated with melatonin deficiency and will make it harder to fall and stay asleep.

How can you know if you’re deficient in melatonin? An easy way is to test for the main melatonin metabolite in a urine sample collected during the first void of the morning. Testing for melatonin in the saliva and the blood is more involved. Home test kits are available, but you’re more certain to get accurate results from tests ordered by a doctor.

Older adults deficient in melatonin may find their sleep improves when they take a daily melatonin supplement. Timed-release melatonin is now available over the counter in the United States. Particularly if your problem is sleep maintenance insomnia (you wake up several times at night), a timed-release supplement will probably be more effective than immediate-release tablets, which exit the system fairly quickly.

Other Benefits of Melatonin Supplementation

Melatonin may have other health-protective effects. It’s been found to act as a powerful antioxidant in laboratory tests. In a review paper published last year, Lionel H. Opie and Sandrine Lecour cite evidence that melatonin may be effective in helping:

  • lower hypertension
  • reduce damage to body tissue after a heart attack
  • protect against, and reduce cell death following, strokes
  • prevent the adverse health effects of obesity
  • treat type 2 diabetes

Weaker evidence suggests that melatonin may help combat some cancers, including prostate and breast cancer.

If you’re a garden-variety insomniac like me, you may not think much of melatonin. But don’t you have to love it a little bit for all the things it can do?

If you’ve tried melatonin for sleep or some other reason, how did it work?

Q&A: Should Night Owls Use Sleeping Pills?

Rob wrote to Ask The Savvy Insomniac complaining about insomnia and wondering if Belsomra might help.

Today’s blog post features his story and my response.

Rob wrote to Ask The Savvy Insomniac complaining about insomnia and wondering if Belsomra might help.

trouble functioning in the a.m. could indicate circadian rhythm disorder

I’ve had insomnia since my teens. Never could get to sleep before 2:30. And that’s when I’m lucky. Sometimes it’s 3:30 or 4.

I do everything I’m supposed to do. I work out at the gym every day. I have a few beers when I get home but that’s it. I use a blue light blocking app on my computer and anyway I’m usually off it by 11. But nothing I do changes the situation. I just don’t feel sleepy. No matter how sleep deprived I am, I feel wired.

When the alarm goes off at 7:20 I feel exhausted. Coffee doesn’t help. I fight to stay awake at the office and by the end of the week it’s a losing battle. Early morning meetings are the worst.

What saves me is being able to sleep in on weekends. That and sleeping pills. Ambien will sometimes put me to sleep by 1. So my question is: Do you think Belsomra could work for me?

Barking up the Wrong Tree

I’m no doctor, but I suspect that if Rob were to consult a sleep specialist, his diagnosis would not be insomnia disorder but rather delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD). The symptoms he reports are classic:

  • a preference for going to sleep several hours later than normal
  • difficulty sleeping at more conventional times
  • feeling alert, not sleepy, at night
  • struggling to wake up and function in the morning
  • catching up on sleep on the weekends

Rob might not have a sleep problem if his work began at noon. But most jobs start earlier, and for people with DSPD, trying to function on a conventional schedule is a major ordeal. It can quickly lead to sleep deprivation and trouble meeting obligations. It limits prospects down the line.

A 25-Hour Circadian Period

We humans can’t choose our sleep time preferences. Whether you’re a night owl, an early bird, or somewhere in between depends on a mix of genetic factors. These preferences can be modified, though, and may also evolve with age-related changes.

Sleep experts have long suspected that people with DSPD have body clocks that run slow, taking longer to complete their daily cycle. While the average circadian period in humans is 24 hours 11 minutes, scientists have hypothesized that the period length in people with DSPD is closer to 25 hours.

The results of two recent studies confirm that circadian rhythms are quite a bit more delayed in people with DSPD than in normal sleepers:

  1. Investigators in Australia assessed study participants’ core body temperature rhythms over 78 hours and found that under conditions of a constant routine, DSPD patients’ temperature rhythms were delayed by about one hour a day. This suggests “that DSPD patients, on average, must advance their circadian rhythm by almost an hour each day to maintain stability of their sleep–wake cycle to the 24-hour world.”
  2. Using a similar, 30-hour study protocol, the same team found that melatonin secretion began almost 3 hours later in DSPD patients than in normal sleepers. While in normal sleepers the melatonin secretion began with a surge, in DSPD patients, it started out gradually.

No wonder people like Rob have trouble getting to sleep!

Therapies: Bright Light and Melatonin

The most effective treatment for night owls wanting to get to sleep sooner is not sleeping pills but rather bright light therapy. The light source can be the sun or a light box that disseminates light at 10,000 lux. Light exposure should occur first thing in the morning. The largest phase advances occur in sessions lasting for 2 hours.

Phase advances are also larger when morning bright light sessions are combined with a melatonin supplement taken late in the afternoon or around dinnertime. Combined with 0.5 mg of melatonin taken late in the afternoon, continuous exposure to bright light for 30 minutes early in the morning was found, in another recent study, to produce 75% of the phase shift that occurred with the 2-hour exposure.

But the bright light–melatonin regimen is not a cure for DSPD. Stop it and your circadian rhythms will revert to their natural cadence. This will also happen if you allow yourself to sleep in late on weekends. You’ll function best if you maintain the same sleep-wake schedule all 7 days of the week.

As for sleeping pills like Ambien and Belsomra, why assume the risks these pills confer when bright light therapy and melatonin supplements, which have few if any side effects, can work even better?

If you’re a night owl, have you tried bright light therapy and/or melatonin supplements? How have they worked?

Insomnia in Midlife and Older Women

Trouble sleeping is common in women at menopause, or so conventional thinking goes. Yet the latest word is that it’s during perimenopause when the trouble starts to brew.

Genetic factors may partly explain why insomnia is more common in women than in men. But hormonal changes during perimenopause and later in life are often cited as a more proximal cause of sleep problems that occur in midlife and older women.

Perimenopause gives rise to hot flashes and trouble sleeping due to fluctuating reproductive hormonesTrouble sleeping is common in women at menopause, or so conventional thinking goes. Yet the latest word is that it’s during perimenopause—the years leading up to menopause—when the trouble starts to brew. In fact, one in three perimenopausal women suffers chronic insomnia, according to data presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society.

Genetic factors may partly explain why insomnia is more common in women than in men. But hormonal changes during perimenopause and later in life are often cited as a more proximal cause of sleep problems that occur in midlife and older women. Here are some details.

In Flux

During perimenopause, levels of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones of the reproductive system are in flux. Estrogen production, in decline overall, is wildly erratic. Progesterone secretion stops during menstrual cycles when no ovulation occurs. Fluctuating levels of these and other reproductive hormones are often cited as factors underlying perimenopausal symptoms: irregular and heavy periods, headaches, and hot flashes.

Hot Flashes

Up to 80 percent of perimenopausal women experience hot flashes. For years women have reported that hot flashes cause night sweats and wake-ups, but only recently has the extent of the sleep disruption shown up in objective testing.

In a study published in 2013 in the journal Sleep, researchers set out to mimic perimenopause by injecting young women with a synthetic hormone that would suppress secretion of estradiol (a form of estrogen). Sixty-nine percent of the women went on to experience hot flashes (called vasomotor symptoms, or VMS, in medical lingo). The researchers hypothesized that nighttime VMS would lead to increased sleep fragmentation—and this is exactly what happened. “The number of nighttime VMS correlated directly with the degree of sleep disturbance,” the investigators concluded.

In another study, published this month in Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers compared perimenopausal women with insomnia to perimenopausal women without insomnia and this is what they found, as measured by polysomnogram:

  • Insomniacs got an average of 43.5 minutes less sleep than women without insomnia.
  • Insomniacs were more likely to have hot flashes, and the number of hot flashes predicted the number of awakenings they had.

Hot flashes and night sweats are clearly disruptive to sleep and may increase midlife women’s vulnerability to insomnia.

Which Hormones Are Involved?

Hormonal fluctuations may give rise to both hot flashes and disturbed sleep during the menopausal transition. Estrogen is likely involved, since estrogen replacement therapy (less commonly recommended now than in the past) mitigates these perimenopausal symptoms. But there’s little agreement yet as to which hormonal factors are involved in midlife insomnia.

Researchers at the University of Washington recently analyzed data from the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study to see how hormonal factors correlated with the severity of perimenopausal symptoms. Compared with women with moderate and low levels of symptoms, women with severe hot flashes and moderate sleep disturbance

  • had lower estrogen levels and higher levels of follicle stimulating hormone (released in the days leading up to ovulation to stimulate the growth of follicles in the ovary)
  • tended to have lower levels of epinephrine (or adrenaline) and higher levels of norepinephrine. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are stress hormones.

But other research teams have come up with different results. Here’s what researchers publishing this year in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found:

  • Estradiol (a form of estrogen) was protective of stable sleep in women ages 18 to 27. But there was no correlation between levels of estradiol and sleep quality in perimenopausal women.
  • In perimenopausal women without sleep complaints, increased levels of follicle stimulating hormone did correlate with increased wakefulness at night. Not so in perimenopausal women with insomnia, in whom sleep duration correlated instead with anxiety and depression.

While hormonal fluctuations that occur during perimenopause can undoubtedly interfere with women’s sleep, the actual mix of hormonal factors underlying midlife insomnia is still unknown.

Melatonin and Older Women’s Sleep

One hormone that may be a factor in the sleep problems of older women is melatonin. Studies of young and middle-aged subjects have shown that women tend to have higher melatonin levels than men.

But results of a cross-sectional study of 528 older people showed that the opposite is true for older women. Investigators found that older women excreted 18.4 percent less melatonin in their urine at night than older men. This suggests that some older women may be deficient in melatonin. Unlike younger insomniacs, for whom melatonin supplements often have no effect, older women with insomnia may find that melatonin supplementation improves their sleep.

Timed-Release Melatonin for Insomnia

A friend recently called to talk about insomnia. Her problem, she said, was that she couldn’t sleep past 3 a.m. Her doctor recommended taking melatonin and she wanted to know what I thought of this advice.

If you’ve got the type of insomnia where you wake up too early or too frequently (sleep maintenance insomnia), you may be interested in this update.

Timed-release melatonin may help people who awaken too early or too frequentlyA friend recently called to talk about insomnia. Her problem, she said, was that she couldn’t sleep past 3 a.m. Her doctor recommended taking melatonin and she wanted to know what I thought of this advice. Coincidentally, last week ConsumerLab, a company that tests and reviews dietary supplements, published a review of melatonin supplements.

If you’ve got the type of insomnia where you wake up too early or too frequently (sleep maintenance insomnia), you may be interested in this update.

Hormone and Supplement

The melatonin found in supplements is chemically identical to the sleep-friendly hormone produced at night in the brain’s pineal gland. Secretion of melatonin begins about 2 hours before bedtime and continues through the night, falling off at wake-up time.

Melatonin supplements are thought to be quite safe. They can help night owls fall asleep at an earlier hour. Timed right, supplements can also ease jet lag. But as a treatment for people with sleep maintenance insomnia, melatonin supplements often come up short.

Melatonin and Aging

Melatonin production often falls off as people age. This may occur because of degeneration of neurons in the circadian system or partial calcification of the pineal gland. The resulting low levels of melatonin make it harder to get sound, restorative sleep.

In theory, supplementary melatonin should take care of the problem. The reality is that often it doesn’t. One reason is that the melatonin in most over-the-counter supplements is fast acting. It reaches its maximum strength and is metabolized by the body quickly. The half-life of most melatonin supplements is quite short: 20 to 45 minutes. (Half-life refers to the time it takes for a dose of a drug in the blood plasma to decrease by half.) Compare this to the 5-7-hour half-life of Lunesta, the top-selling prescription sleeping pill in 2013.

Taken before bedtime, most melatonin supplements lose potency too quickly to help users sleep through the night.

Timed-Release Melatonin Supplements

The answer to this problem may lie in some type of timed-release formulation of melatonin. Circadin is one such drug. It’s available by prescription for adults 55 and older in several countries outside the United States. The drug has a half-life of 3.5–4 hours, so it’s longer lasting than most melatonin supplements sold over-the-counter. Clinical trials suggest that compared with placebo, Circadin improves the sleep quality and morning alertness of older adults with insomnia. (Apparently, the trial results are not convincing enough for the drug to gain approval in the US.)

ConsumerLab’s review of melatonin supplements acquainted me with timed-release formulations now sold over-the-counter in the US. Here are some examples:

  • Natrol Melatonin Time Release (1, 3, 5, and 10 mg, advertised as released over 8 hours)
  • Source Naturals Timed-Release Melatonin (2 and 3 mg, advertised as released over 6 hours)
  • Life Extension 6 Hour Timed Release Melatonin (300 and 750 mcg and 3 mg, advertised as released over 6 hours)

No spokesperson I reached at these companies was able to explain exactly what sort of testing was done to establish the 6- and 8-hour release times. Unlike pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers of dietary supplements do not have to conduct clinical trials or obtain approval for their products from the US Food and Drug Administration. Supplement makers are essentially allowed to police themselves, required only to gather enough evidence to show that their products are safe and that claims they make about them are not untrue or misleading. (ConsumerLab did not test the timed-release feature of these drugs.) How long the melatonin in these products will remain active in your body, and how likely the supplements are to improve your sleep quality or reduce your nighttime wake-ups, is impossible to know.

Still, people with sleep maintenance insomnia who decide to try a melatonin supplement are probably better off with a timed-release product than the immediate-release type.

Dosing

Even low-dose melatonin supplements (0.1–0.5 mg) contain a lot more melatonin than humans produce naturally. So taking higher doses (2–10 mg) may leave you feeling groggy in the morning. This is especially true for older adults, who process drugs more slowly.

Starting with a low dose seems like a smart idea.

Have you tried a timed-release melatonin supplement? If so, did it help you sleep, and did you notice any negative effects?

Will Melatonin Work for You?

Last week I gave a talk about insomnia and insomnia remedies, and I asked people in the audience to share what they knew. “Melatonin!” a man shouted out. “It doesn’t work!” Others laughed in agreement.

But there is at least one type of insomnia sufferer who stands to gain a lot by taking melatonin supplements regularly at the appropriate time of day. Watch this 3-minute book trailer to find out more.

Last week I gave a talk about insomnia and insomnia remedies, and I asked people in the audience to share what they knew. “Melatonin!” a man shouted out. “It doesn’t work!” Others laughed in agreement.

For many years I thought the same thing. Melatonin supplements are unregulated by the US government. What little information we do get about melatonin—from labels and from the Internet—is often misleading, prompting some of us to buy it and try it when we may as well have bought a pair of lottery tickets instead.

But there is at least one type of insomnia sufferer who stands to gain a lot by taking melatonin supplements regularly at the appropriate time of day. This is the topic of my second book trailer. Watch this three-minute video clip and tell me what you think!

Does Melatonin Work for Insomnia?

Melatonin: It’s All About Timing

Most 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.

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.