Mistakes with Melatonin, and how you should really take it

Posted by Sebastien Vanderlinden on

Using melatonin correctly can help sleep and mood problems; its naturally produced in the body, but vitamin supplements can be taken to aid the entire sleeping process, giving your body a natural, healthy and well needed rest. Here are some of the common mistakes people make, and guidelines to use melatonin the right way.

Mistake #1: Melatonin is a sleep hormone

People believe that melatonin is effectively a sleeping pill – wrong; the more correct way to think of melatonin as a ‘darkness’ signaler, that is, it tells the brain that it needs to prepare for a night time or winter cycle. If taken in the evening or when it’s dark, melatonin can speed up sleep preparation, and it can tell the body clock to shift its sleep cycle to an earlier time.

Mistake #2: I can take melatonin at any time.

If melatonin is used during daytime brightness, it can cause adverse effects. If the body clock is receiving conflicting daytime light signals and dark signals from melatonin, it can malfunction and not work properly when it is time to go to sleep later.

Mistake #3: Melatonin is a natural supplement, so it can’t do any harm.

Taking melatonin at the wrong time of day can cause some health risks, as daytime melatonin has been shown, albeit in rare cases, to cause depression. This makes sense, especially when you consider that melatonin causes us to pull back, withdraw, and become distant – the classic hibernation response. It’s best to avoid using melatonin that could be in our system during the day, and only consume the supplement as you’re about to set off to sleep.


Mistake #4: The dosage amount isn’t important.

The problem with melatonin is that it was discovered long before scientists really understood what it does and how much you need. For example, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we thought melatonin was a sleep hormone. New evidence shows that adult males only need 1,5mg, and the average female needs only 1mg. So the average melatonin supplement is 20 – 50 times more than we need! If you are using regular melatonin tablets, you can cut the pill into fourths, otherwise, try to find the smallest pill size available. If you are taking time-released melatonin, do not break the pill, as this will ruin the time-release.

Mistake #5: I don’t take melatonin, so I don’t have to worry.

Actually, this could be one of the costliest mistakes people make. Melatonin is an essential nighttime hormone. When in the body at the right time, it does wonderful things, such as help the heart and vital organs rest at night. Melatonin also acts as a powerful antioxidant; while it shuts the body down, it cleans the toxins and free radicals from cells.
But we often do things that keep melatonin from being produced, and that can be deadly. When we stay up late at night or work night shifts, we keep our body from producing melatonin. This increases the risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Studies show women night-shift workers have a 500% higher risk of breast cancer and male night shift workers have a 50% increased risk of colo-rectal and bone cancer. While not realising it, many people increase this risk with inconsistent sleep/wake schedules – late night studying or partying or shift work schedules.

How should I take melatonin?

The first thing to know about melatonin is that its half-life is very short, and is only active in your system for about 20 minutes. This is why it is important to use different types of melatonin for different reasons:

Induce sleep or shift sleep to an earlier schedule (1hr+)


  • If you take more than an hour to fall asleep, or you need to shift your sleep more than an hour, consider taking time-released melatonin. It is also important to use a high-quality, standardised melatonin supplement. Try to find the lowest dose available. 
  • When to take: Depending on the severity of the sleep problem, take time-released melatonin 1 to 3 hours prior to the time you usually fall asleep. Since time release melatonin only lasts for 3 – 4 hours, any need to shift sleep schedules more than 3 hours may require taking another pill in 3 or 4 hours.
  • Cautions: Melatonin should not be taken if eyes are exposed to bright sunlight, and melatonin should be avoided if operating any vehicle. If attempting sleep shifts of more than 1 hour, light therapy should also be used. Do not use melatonin for more than two weeks at a time.

Induce sleep (less than 1hr)


  • If it takes an hour or less to fall asleep, then standard melatonin in the lowest mg size is a good option.
  • When to take: One to two hours before desired sleep time.
  • Cautions: See above

Nighttime awakenings and early morning insomnia

For nighttime awakenings that last less than one hour, consider sublingual melatonin is released immediately into the blood stream, and isn’t metabolised through the digestive system.

  • For frequent or awakenings that last more than one hour, consider taking 1 sublingual and a time-released melatonin tablet. Take the time release tablet first and then place the sublingual tablet under your tongue.
  • Cautions: If you need to get up in the morning within 2-3 hours, Take regular instead of time release melatonin. Time release melatonin may last into the waking hours, causing confusion and mood problems. Do not take melatonin if you awaken less than one hour before you need to get up.

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