What is Melatonin, and How Does It Help Us Sleep?

Do you take melatonin when you can’t sleep? Sophie Farr ‘25 explains how it works, and if it’s a good solution for insomnia.


Do you take melatonin when you can’t sleep? Sophie Farr ‘25 explains how it works, and if it’s a good solution for insomnia.

What exactly is melatonin? The name of this specific hormone comes up pretty often. Many mention that they take it to help with insomnia or other sleep problems. However, when you ask different people what exactly melatonin is and what it does, their answers may differ. So, what really is melatonin, what does it do, and how does it work?

Melatonin is a natural hormone that your body produces from the pineal gland (a pea-sized gland in the middle of your brain.) It helps prepare you for sleep, signaling that it is time for the body to rest. Light suppresses melatonin production, so being in darkness at night is important for your body to begin producing melatonin. This is why it is recommended not to be looking at screens or having too much exposure to light in the nighttime. 

Melatonin that is taken in the form of pills, liquid, or gummies is categorized as a supplement, as it is not a completely foreign hormone being introduced to your body. Under the FDA in the United States, melatonin is considered a dietary supplement. According to the NIH, this means that it is heavily regulated and is available to purchase over the counter. However, in some countries, melatonin is only attainable with a prescription. 

Another question that you might have: are there any risks to taking melatonin? According to health.com, melatonin is a generally low-risk supplement, with usual side effects being drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Some may also experience an increased amount of nightmares and dreaming. The side effects happen more often when one takes a larger dose of melatonin, with an adult’s dose being around 5 milligrams and a child’s around 3 milligrams. As with most medications, there are certain risks if the taker is on another medication or is pregnant.

Finally, is it safe to take every night? Most doctors report that melatonin is generally safe to take every night, although regularly taking an excess of the supplement can cause any of the above listed symptoms or even melatonin poisoning. According to Sleep Foundation, surveys show that most adults who take melatonin take it 211 days out of a year, but, according to Ocean Recovery, it is almost impossible to have an addiction to melatonin. However, using melatonin can lead to addiction to other sleeping medications. The provided ease of falling asleep more quickly and more soundly may lead to overusing other drugs that do have addictive properties. Also, you can’t build an immunity to melatonin. If you are taking a certain dose, there will be no need to increase the dosage over time, as a tolerance cannot be built. 

However, it’s important to remember that melatonin shouldn’t be a long-term solution. If you really are experiencing long-term problems with sleep or find melatonin ineffective after one or two weeks, you should talk to a doctor about other methods or solutions to help with your sleep.


By Sophie Farr ‘25, Rising Managing Copy Editor