Optimal Melatonin Dose For Every Age (With Evidence-Based Ways to Prevent Drowsiness)
The body’s sleep-wake cycle depends on an endocrine system-secreting hormone called melatonin.
At night, a tiny, pine cone-shaped organ in the middle of the brain, known as the pineal (pin-knee-ul) gland, senses shifting light signals. This is where the brain produces melatonin, sometimes referred to as the “darkness hormone.”1
When the endocrine system is balanced, melatonin naturally ebbs and flows with the rhythmic cycle of night and day. It’s the hormone that makes you feel tired and want to close your eyes in the evening.
Under the right conditions, the brain ramps up melatonin production after sunset, slowing to a halt in the early morning hours after sunrise.
For people with depleted melatonin rhythms, the sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian clock) doesn’t always align with night and day. Jet lag, late-night work, and having an inconsistent sleep schedule are all tied to irregular melatonin production.2 In situations where someone experiences temporary sleeplessness, supplementing with a low dose of melatonin is a natural pineal gland stimulator.
But melatonin can’t address the underlying cause of sleeplessness, as some supplement companies would have you believe. Below, here are evidence-based ways that melatonin can support better sleep, plus a dosage chart and disclaimers for people on prescription meds.
Melatonin Dosage By Age
Research from analytical studies suggests that melatonin helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, improving the overall quality of sleep.3
Another review article published in Sleep Medicine indicates that 3 mg-12 mg of melatonin reduces episodes of involuntary dream enactment, a symptom of REM sleep behavior disorder that causes people to punch, flail, and yell out while they dream.4
But like most supplements, melatonin may not work for every sleeper.
This is particularly true for people with neurodegenerative diseases5 and chronic insomnia.6 At this time, the use of melatonin for these conditions has limited, conflicting effects.
There are also a plethora of sleep-related external factors to take into consideration, such as an individual’s stress levels, diet, and body temperature.7
So, how much melatonin should you take? The chart below summarizes average melatonin dosages from clinical studies (based on age):
|Severity of Sleep Problem||Adults (18-65+)||Children (3 months-18)|
|Mild||2 mg-5 mg||0.1 mg-5 mg|
|Moderate||5 mg-10 mg||1 mg-10 mg|
|Severe||6 mg-10 mg8||1 mg-10 mg9|
The amount of melatonin you take should correlate with the degree of sleep difficulties. For instance, children with sleep disorders related to ADHD may benefit from melatonin dosages in the 3 mg-6 mg range.10 Temporary sleep disturbance from jet lag, on the other hand, may only require a 0.5 mg to 5 mg dose.
At this time, the FDA has yet to disclose recommended melatonin dosages.11 There is, however, a correlation between taking too much melatonin and residual drowsiness, which (theoretically) means that lower doses of melatonin are more ideal for short-term circadian imbalances.
A sleep supplement with less melatonin and other sleep-promoting herbs, like DREAM, gently engages the sleep-wake cycle without causing next-day tiredness. This can be particularly helpful for older adults, whose natural melatonin levels wane with age.12
Side Effects and Risks
On the bright side, melatonin is non-habit forming, unlike some prescribed sleeping pills. Most studies emphasize the short-lived side effects of taking too much melatonin, which can involve:13
- Feeling cold
People taking prescribed medication, for whatever reason, should consult with their healthcare provider before supplementing with melatonin.
Although it’s said to have a favorable side effect profile, there are still unknowns about drug efficacy when combined with melatonin,14 not to forget additional side effects that could occur between melatonin and drugs prescribed for diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and depression.
Alcohol and Caffeine
Alcohol is a known melatonin disruptor,15 but some research suggests that people affected by alcohol use disorder may benefit from circadian-based treatments.
Additional research shows that drinking three cups of coffee every day for 20 years is correlated with smaller pineal gland volume.16 Since both alcohol and caffeine affect melatonin production, cutting back on these beverages can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and reduce drowsiness.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
During pregnancy, melatonin levels fall during the first two trimesters and rise again before birth. The combined physical, hormonal, and emotional changes of pregnancy can be exhausting, but most researchers agree that it’s not safe to supplement with melatonin before and after birth.
The most common forms of melatonin include pills, gummies, and liquids. If you’d prefer a non-oral delivery method, there are also patch, topical, and spray options available.
When it comes to bioavailability—that is, how quickly melatonin goes into effect—liquid and spray forms absorb into the bloodstream faster than pills and gummies.
DREAM is a powder melatonin supplement that mixes in water. With a low 0.5 mg dose of melatonin, 7 mg of hemp, and clinically studied adaptogenic herbs, the combined effects of melatonin and plant medicine may help you transition to sleep mode better than using melatonin alone.
Dosage Timing Before Sleep
People who are new to melatonin should start low and go slow, which is true for any supplement plan. The best time to take melatonin is 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.17
Other Habits That Support Sleep
While melatonin supplements induce short-term sleepiness, they can’t treat underlying causes of sleep disorders. Anxiety, certain medications, sleep apnea, chronic pain, and many other health conditions, just to name a few, can all impact the quality of your sleep.
Here’s a shortlist of healthy habits to boost melatonin naturally:18
- Limit late-night screen time
- Cut out alcohol and caffeine
- Take a daily multivitamin
- Get on a regular sleep schedule
With holistic attention to your physical and mental health, you may be able to increase melatonin production without supplements. Feel free to use them as a crutch, though, especially if you need temporary relief after a long flight.
To experience less drowsiness from melatonin, dose responsibly and follow the habits outlined above.
The optimal melatonin dose depends on individual factors related to age, sleep needs, and delivery form. Generally speaking, a 0.5 mg-5 mg dose is a good place to start. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendation, found on the supplement packaging.