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How does melatonin affect sleep?

If you feel like you’re never able to get enough sleep, you’re not alone. According to the American Sleep Association, between 50 and 70 million U.S. adults have some form of sleep disorder, such as difficulty falling asleep or the inability to stay asleep during the night. That’s more than 20% of the population – and some estimates put the number even higher.

“Being unable to get a good night’s sleep is frustrating and can take a toll on your health as well,” said Shaun C. Corbin, M.D., a specialist in otolaryngology and sleep medicine on the medical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center. “Not sleeping enough can increase one’s risk for heart disease, kidney disease and high blood pressure, in addition to having a negative impact on the immune system.”

What Is Melatonin?

For some people, sleep disorders are caused by an insufficient amount of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in our bodies to help control our wake-sleep cycle. Melatonin levels typically start to rise in the evening, signaling to our bodies that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Unfortunately, production of melatonin can decrease as we age. Melatonin levels can also be affected by jet lag, working the night shift, being overweight or other factors.

Should You Take Melatonin Supplements?

One popular method for increasing the body’s melatonin level is to take an over-the-counter melatonin supplement. Melatonin supplements come in pill, liquid, chewable or lozenge form, in dosages ranging from 1 to 10 milligrams. Melatonin supplements are not generally advised for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who have an autoimmune disease or seizure disorder. It is also suggested that they only be used on a short-term basis and at the lowest effective level (start with 1-3 mg but don’t take more than 10mg). If you’re interested in trying melatonin, you should check with your doctor even though melatonin is available without a prescription because it could interfere with other medications you’re taking.

Natural Sleep Remedies

Before you start relying on melatonin supplements, try these tips to sleep better:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Start winding down an hour before bedtime by disconnecting from all electronics.
  • Create a soothing bedtime routine that you follow every night.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool.
  • Consider a sound machine to help block out noise that might be keeping you awake.
  • Get outside during the day to expose your body to natural light.

“If you routinely experience difficulties related to sleep, speak to your physician. Testing is available to examine your sleep patterns and determine whether you may have a sleep disorder, such as apnea, that can be treated,” said Dr. Corbin.

Learn more about sleep disorders here.

Shaun C. Corbin, M.D.
is a specialist in otolaryngology and sleep medicine on the medical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center. He is associated with Middle TN Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists in Columbia, Tennessee.


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Date Last Reviewed: March 4, 2020
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