When you’re constantly waking up in the middle of the night and wasting the last of your precious sleeping hours wide awake, reaching for a bottle of melatonin may seem like a great idea. It’s readily available, and it’s supposed to help you sleep . . . right? Sleep deprivation can make this logic seem sound, but experts say taking melatonin in the middle of the night can actually make your sleep schedule even worse.
Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist and clinical psychologist, explained that, while taking melatonin is generally safe and may help you fall back asleep, popping the supplement after you’ve already gone to bed can cause you to feel groggy in the morning, which sort of defeats the purpose of taking it in the first place. “Melatonin is not a sleeping pill. It’s a sleep regulator,” Dr. Breus told POPSUGAR. “It changes the time your body wants to sleep.”
He also cautioned that taking an incorrect dose of melatonin can have adverse effects. “At too high of a dose, [melatonin] causes nightmares,” Dr. Breus said. He typically recommends 1.5 milligrams for adults and warned that many melatonin supplements contain much more than that.
Max Kerr, DDS, a board-certified dental sleep medicine specialist with Sleep Better Austin, agreed that if your sleep schedule is relatively normal, taking between 0.3 and 2 milligrams of melatonin an hour before bedtime should help you drift off to sleep. If you need a hard reset of your circadian clock — because you’re working shifts or suffering from jet lag, for example — Dr. Kerr explained that taking 5 milligrams of melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.
Taking the proper dose of melatonin can help reduce any negative side effects, including headaches, dizziness, and nausea. But if you find yourself reaching for a supplement often, it’s important that you talk to your doctor. As Dr. Kerr explained, if you wake up every morning feeling like you could fall right back asleep or you can’t function without your morning coffee, you may be experiencing chronic sleep deprivation. Snoring, waking up gasping for air, and struggling to fall sleep or stay asleep are also red flags. “It is estimated that up to 1 billion people worldwide suffer from [sleep apnea], so it is important to get checked if you have difficulty sleeping,” Dr. Kerr told POPSUGAR. “The good news is that much of the problem can be treated by something as simple as a nighttime mouthpiece that is covered by most medical insurances.”
Other lifestyle changes you could try at home to promote better sleep include creating a relaxing bedtime routine, getting regular exercise, and reducing your caffeine intake. However, if you’ve tried changing your habits and still find yourself turning to melatonin on a consistent basis, consulting your doctor or a sleep specialist is likely the best path to a truly restful night of sleep.