This is the best time to take melatonin before bed

If, like many Americans, you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, you’re probably considering melatonin supplements.

According to the National Institutes of Health, melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain in response to darkness. The hormone may be helpful for your circadian rhythm, internal 24-hour clock, and sleep, as stated by the NIH.

Melatonin supplements are available in the form of drops, gummies, and liquids and tablets, and are available at pharmacies like CVS, big box stores like Target, and online through DTC brands that offer supplements for almost everything.

But as with most vitamins and supplements, directions for taking melatonin can be pretty vague. And you may be wondering if there’s an optimal time to take your dose before bed. You may also want to have a better sense of how the supplements work or what melatonin does for the body.

Yo-El Ju is a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Washington University in St. Louis. We asked them to help answer three key questions about using melatonin for better sleep.

When is the best time to take melatonin before bed?

Before you decide the best time to take melatonin, you should make a clear distinction, says Ju.

Knowing whether or not you have a circadian rhythm disorder will determine how close to bedtime you should take a supplement. People with a delayed circadian phase are commonly referred to as night owls.

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“For people who have a problem with their body clock, if they have a circadian disorder, like a night owl type, we recommend that those individuals take melatonin about an hour or two before their desired bedtime,” she says.

But most people don’t have a circadian disorder, and those who only take the supplements to get to sleep “can take them at bedtime or just 15 minutes before,” says Ju.

What Type of Melatonin Supplement Should I Take?

Time isn’t the only factor in determining how melatonin supplements affect your sleep. Both the dosage and the type of supplement you take can make for very different experiences, says Ju.

Also, keep in mind that supplements like melatonin aren’t subject to the same regulations as drugs, she says. With that in mind, researchers conducted a study in 2017 that compared different brands of melatonin supplements, including tablets, gummies, liquids, and more.

“They found that the dosages found in actual melatonin pills don’t always match what’s on the label,” says Ju. And some supplements even contained serotonin, which the study found can affect a person’s sleep.

“When I advise my patients, I recommend that they get at least a three-milligram tablet,” says Ju. “And when they try it for the first time, they actually cut it in half and go for 1.5 milligrams.”

Melatonin, when properly dosed, won’t make you light-headed or result in a deep sleep that makes it hard for you to wake up, she says. In general, a dose of between one and six milligrams is usually used for adults, and anything above that is usually not bring additional benefit.

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What else is important to know about melatonin?

For natural melatonin to be truly effective, Ju says it’s best to stay in a dark environment and limit light exposure, since light prevents the hormone from doing its job.

“The effect of light on suppressing the melatonin that people already have in their brains is very strong, which means the effect of light is probably 10 times that of melatonin,” says Ju. “Before anyone takes melatonin, I would recommend that they work on their light exposure about an hour before bed.”

Although taking a melatonin supplement daily doesn’t generally result in side effects, sometimes supplemental melatonin isn’t necessary, Ju says. Here’s what she recommends before reaching for a supplement:

  • Limit light exposure, especially blue light exposure from electronics screens, one hour before bedtime
  • Stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up time
  • Follow a peaceful bedtime routine that will help calm your senses

“I think it’s very effective when people schedule time to relax, journal, meditate, stretch, whatever works for each individual to help them calm the stresses of the day so they’re calm and peaceful goes to bed, ”says Yu.

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