If you’ve been taking melatonin supplements to help you sleep, you might have experienced the grogginess or melatonin hangover that follows when you wake up the next morning. Even with a full night’s rest, you may wake up tired and drowsy, and it may take a while before you feel fully awake.
This begs the question: How long does melatonin stay in your system? Here’s everything you need to know.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone in the human body. It is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is responsible for regulating the body’s internal clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm.
Melatonin, or the “darkness hormone,” is responsive to bright light and darkness and tells the body when it’s time to sleep and wake up.
In a healthy person, melatonin levels rise when the sun goes down and reach peak levels between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. From there, it drops gradually and is at its lowest in the middle of the day.
Melatonin supplements contain synthetic versions of the naturally-occurring hormone in our bodies. These products are designed to mimic the hormone’s sleep wake effects to help regulate the circadian rhythm if it has been disrupted for whatever reason.
For instance, if you are traveling to an entirely different time zone or are a shift worker who works at night and sleeps during the day, taking melatonin supplements can help your body adjust to the new sleep wake cycle. That way, you can fall asleep when you’re supposed to and stay awake when you’re meant to.
Synthetic melatonin works to change the timing of your body’s internal clock to minimize the fatigue that comes when your circadian rhythm is out of tune with your regular work hours.
How Much Sleep Aid Melatonin to Take
The dosage of standard over-the-counter melatonin supplements ranges from 1-10 mg. Some products come in lower 0.5 mg dosages. Contrary to what you might believe, taking higher amounts of the hormone doesn’t necessarily mean it will be more effective.
The same dose of the supplements may affect two people differently. One person may take 1 mg of melatonin and end up feeling extremely drowsy, whereas another person may take the exact dose and not feel a thing.
Since there are no standard dosage guidelines for a melatonin supplement, the best thing to do is start with the lowest dose (0.5-1.0 mg) and gradually increase the milligrams over several weeks until you get the optimum amount to take.
At the risk of stating the obvious, melatonin is a hormonal supplement. The extended use of any hormone can significantly down-regulate your body’s secretion of the hormone in question.
Melatonin is not designed to be a long-term sleep aid, nor is it supposed to remedy the underlying cause of sleep deprivation or sleep disturbances. It’s supposed to be a short-term fix to help put your circadian rhythm back on track.
It is also worth noting that melatonin can affect other hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, when taken for extended durations.
Does Melatonin Help You Sleep?
Melatonin in itself doesn’t make you sleep. Instead, it calms the body, putting you in a state of peaceful wakefulness, which, in turn, promotes better sleep. In other words, melatonin doesn’t directly make you; it tells your body to get ready for sleep.
Once in a while, something may happen to cause a sleep disturbance. You may have recently started a shift job, traveled to a different time zone, or have an underlying anxiety about a recent or upcoming event. Whatever the case, even a sound sleeper may experience difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night once in a while.
If you have trouble sleeping for at least two nights, a melatonin supplement can help you sleep by adjusting your sleep wake cycle. It is particularly beneficial for people with insomnia or those who suffer from delayed sleep phase disorder. The latter causes individuals to sleep late and wake up late the following day.
It is worth noting that melatonin use affects people differently. You also need to know when to stop melatonin use since it is not designed for long-term use.
If there’s no improvement in your sleep quality after taking a melatonin supplement every night for two weeks, you should stop taking the supplements and seek help from a qualified medical professional to uncover the underlying cause of your nighttime wakefulness.
Aside from taking melatonin, ensure your bedroom environment is conducive to rest. Dim the lights at bedtime and keep the temperature low. You can also play calming music in the background to help you relax and prepare your body for sleep.
How Long Does Melatonin Stay In Your System?
The duration it takes for melatonin to leave your system depends on its half-life. The term “half-life” refers to the period it takes your body to break down, absorb, and eliminate half a dose of the medication you’re taking.
The average half-life of melatonin is 20-50 minutes. It takes roughly 4-5 half-lives for the body to completely use up melatonin and eliminate anything that isn’t absorbed. This means it stays in your system for between four hours (for regular tablets) and eight hours (for slow-release tablets).
You might feel some lingering effects of the melatonin even after this window. It isn’t uncommon to feel groggy and sleepy when you wake up the following day after taking these supplements. This should improve as the day goes on.
Some of the factors that may play a role in how long melatonin stays in your body include:
- Age: The hormone remains active for longer periods in older adults.
- Weight: Individuals weighing less than 250 lbs. may feel the effects of the hormone more than those who weigh more.
- Caffeine intake: Caffeine counteracts the effect of melatonin since it is a stimulant.
- Other medications: Diabetes, immunosuppressants, hypertension, and anticoagulant medication may affect how the body processes melatonin.
How long does melatonin stay in your system? The short answer is – anywhere from 4-8 hours. Remember, melatonin is supposed to be a short-term remedy for sleep disorders.
It is meant to “correct” your circadian rhythm to help you sleep when you’re supposed to and wake up when you’re supposed to. It doesn’t address the root cause of your inability to sleep.
If you take melatonin for more than two weeks and find no improvement in your condition, consult a healthcare provider to find a lasting solution.
In the meantime, have you tried doing a guided meditation to help you sleep? Find out how to get started.