How Long Does Melatonin Last & When Does it Work?

melatonin on dark night background

Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally produced by the brain. It is also a popular dietary supplement used by individuals who have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. You can think of it as a sort of chamomile-tea-valerian-root extract in capsular form.

Melatonin is not, by any definition, a sleeping pill or clinical sleep medicine – you’ll understand why in a minute.

How long does melatonin take to work? How long does it last? When does it work? This guide explores the answers to these questions and more.

How Does Melatonin Work?

While melatonin is marketed as a sleeping aid, it does have some clinical uses. It is classified as a supplement, not a sleeping pill or clinical sleep medicine because it treats the symptom without addressing the underlying cause of the sleep disorder.

In other words, if your inability to sleep stems from psychological issues such as stress, anxiety, or depression, or even more serious disorders such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea, taking melatonin may help you get those ZZZZZZs. Still, it won’t fix whatever is causing the sleep problems.

That said, a melatonin supplement is a relatively affordable remedy for addressing short-term sleep disorders. It is tied to the body’s natural circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). It is sometimes referred to as the “darkness/vampire hormone” because it is active at night and dormant during the day.

The hormone is secreted by the brain’s pineal gland, which remains largely inactive during daytime exposure to natural light.

As the sun begins to set and it starts getting dark outside, the pineal gland comes alive and floods the brain with melatonin. As melatonin continues to rise, the levels of the stress hormone – cortisol – fall. Lower cortisol levels result in a slower heart and respiration rate, and soon, we begin to feel sleepy.

If you’re having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, it might be because your brain’s melatonin secretion is out of whack. By taking a melatonin supplement, you’re essentially tricking your brain into behaving like it is nighttime.

Melatonin doesn’t make you fall asleep – which is why it is not categorized as a sleeping pill. Instead, it “tells” your body that you need to sleep. As a result, you’ll start getting drowsy after you take it. The biggest impact it will have will be regulating your circadian rhythm.

When Does Melatonin Work?

The overall effect melatonin use will have on your sleep largely depends on the time of day you take it. If you took a sleeping pill in the middle of the day, even in a busy work environment, you would begin to feel sleepy. You might even be tempted to sneak away from the office to your car for a quick nap.

Melatonin doesn’t work the same way. It doesn’t have the same sedation effect as sleeping pills like Benadryl and Ambien. If you took a melatonin capsule in the middle of the day, you likely wouldn’t feel any effect or daytime sleepiness.

Ideally, you should take it when your brain’s pineal gland would ordinarily be secreting melatonin which happens to be at nighttime. You want to supplement the low levels of melatonin your brain produces to counteract the higher cortisol levels in your system.

That said, there’s no guarantee that taking it will do anything to improve the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting. Its effectiveness varies from user to user.

How Long Does Melatonin Take to Work?

The body absorbs melatonin quickly. After taking an oral supplement, you can expect it to reach peak-level in your body after about 60 minutes. That’s when you should start to feel sleepy.

Like all drugs and supplements, melatonin may have different effects on different users. It comes down to your body chemistry and the type of melatonin supplement you take. You might start to feel sleepy after 40 minutes or even after 90 minutes.

If you’re just starting, try taking melatonin 30-60 minutes before bed and see how your body responds. You can then adjust the timing depending on the duration it takes to fall asleep.

pills and glass of water on a bedside table

How Long Does Melatonin Last?

Regular supplemental melatonin are immediate-release tablets. This means the melatonin tablet starts dissolving as soon as you take it, instantly releasing melatonin into your bloodstream. Unfortunately, this also means that it reaches peak levels quite fast and may not last long enough to keep you asleep through the night.

On the flip side, extended-release melatonin supplements dissolve slowly and are designed to mimic the way your brain secretes melatonin – gradually over time. These are considered superior to regular tablets as they are more likely to help you stay asleep through the night.

Continuous-release, slow-release, prolonged-release, time-release, and controlled-release are all terms used to define extended-release melatonin.

How Much Melatonin Should You Take?

Generally, the recommended melatonin dosage is 1-10 mg. You should start with the lowest dose and increase it gradually to a higher dose over time to determine the optimum amount you should take to help you sleep without experiencing any adverse side effects or sleep disturbance.

It is worth noting that there is such a thing as taking too much melatonin. An overdose might result in a disruption of your circadian rhythm, subsequently causing daytime drowsiness. Grogginess is also considered by many as a melatonin hangover.

Keep in mind that melatonin doesn’t fall in the class of medications regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once again, this is because melatonin isn’t considered a drug. It is marketed and sold as a dietary supplement, so it isn’t subject to regulatory oversight by federal agencies.

Since dosage rules for supplements aren’t as strict as those for FDA-regulated drugs, manufacturers can list inaccurate doses of melatonin on the product packaging. Always stick to reputable manufacturers when choosing the best melatonin supplements to take.

Bottom Line

How long does melatonin last? The answer to this question varies from person to person. The effects of melatonin can last anywhere from 4-8 hours, depending on your body chemistry, the dosage you’re on, and whether or not you’re taking extended release melatonin supplements.

As you take melatonin supplements, you could also try listening to calming music to help you fall asleep faster. Check out our top picks for the best sleeping music.

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