If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, you’re not alone. Insomnia is a very common problem.
In most cases, insomnia is a symptom of an underlying disease, like depression (you should use an antidepressant to treat insomnia that’s caused by depression). Other times, sleep troubles are caused by drugs, like donepezil (Aricept), a drug for Alzheimer’s, or pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), a drug used for stuffy nose.
Rarely, however, insomnia is not a symptom; it is the disease. In such cases, sleep troubles are usually treated with prescription drugs like zolpidem (Ambien), ramelteon (Rozerem) or lorazepam (Ativan). Melatonin is one of the few non-prescription drugs available to address your sleep issues.
How Does Melatonin Work for Sleep?
Your body produces melatonin. It’s a hormone. Your body produces melatonin when it’s dark outside. So, ultimately, melatonin tells your body when to sleep and when to be awake.
If you have chronic insomnia, your body may not be producing enough melatonin throughout the night. In theory, taking a dose of melatonin before bedtime may help you sleep quicker & longer.
A handful of studies show that melatonin can improve sleep quality, duration and onset. The effect is most beneficial in older people and in people taking drugs like Ativan or oxazepam (Serax).
What are the Side Effects of Melatonin for Sleep?
Unlike most prescription sleep drugs, melatonin does not cause early morning grogginess. Melatonin may cause headache or dizziness. It may worsen depression.
The long-term effects of melatonin are not known.
- Take melatonin on an empty stomach (2 hours before or after a meal).
- Take 3-6mg of melatonin 120 minutes before bedtime to get a better night’s sleep.
- Ramelteon & melatonin work very similarly
- Other options for insomnia treatment include Lunesta (eszopiclone), zopiclone and cognitive behavioral therapy
- Lyseng-Williamson KA. Melatonin Prolonged Release : In the Treatment of Insomnia in Patients Aged ≥55 years. Drugs Aging. 2012 Nov;29(11):911-23.
- Scheer FA, Morris CJ, Garcia JI, Smales C, Kelly EE, Marks J, Malhotra A, Shea SA. Repeated melatonin supplementation improves sleep in hypertensive patients treated with beta-blockers: a randomized controlled trial. Sleep. 2012 Oct 1;35(10):1395-402.
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