One in three adults report getting insufficient sleep — defined as fewer than seven hours per night — so it's no surprise that people often seek out over-the-counter sleep aids in hopes of getting better rest. Melatonin, a supplement that helps regulate the body's sleep-wake cycle, is one of the most popular. But if you're having trouble sleeping and you've decided to give melatonin a try, you might find that you have a lot of questions. Like, how long does it take for the supplement to work, anyway? Here's everything you need to know to ensure you're taking melatonin safely and effectively.
Is It Generally Safe to Take Melatonin?
Although melatonin is considered safe for most people, there are a few things to consider before taking the plunge. "Be aware that melatonin can interact with certain medications used to treat diabetes, as well as contraceptives and anticoagulants," Abhinav Singh, MD, sleep physician and facility director at Indiana Sleep Centre, told POPSUGAR. If you're on any prescription medications, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor before you take melatonin.
Dr. Singh also stressed that melatonin shouldn't be used as a long-term solution for sleep problems. If you feel that you need to take melatonin more than three times a week for several months, it's time to find a sleep specialist so you can get to the root cause of your insomnia and establish a treatment plan.
How Long Before Bed Should You Take Melatonin?
Dr. Singh explained that it takes about 30 minutes for melatonin to appear in the bloodstream, and it typically peaks at around one hour. "Melatonin induces a wave or a sensation of drowsiness, and in four to eight hours, is expected to be cleared completely," he said. "I recommend you take melatonin 45 minutes to one hour prior to bedtime, while you start your wind-down routine."
A wind-down routine is key, because getting back on a healthy sleep schedule requires more than just medication. Dr. Singh recommends adopting these four healthy habits: shower, journal, read, and breathe. "Take a warm shower for 15 minutes; empty your thoughts into a journal for 15 minutes; climb into bed and read a book; and then breathe," he explained. (There are a ton of written breathing exercises and meditation apps that can teach you how to effectively use your breath to calm your mind and prepare for sleep.)
Dr. Singh added that it's important to couple melatonin with "a good external and internal environment for sleep" — so, make sure your bedroom is as dark, quiet, and cool as possible. Then remove all screens from the room, including your phone.