Sunday, September 1, 2013

Why Melatonin Supplements Don't Always Work & What Researchers Are Doing About It

insomnia photo: Insomnia insomnia.gif

Melatonin is one of the most popular supplements on the market today. It is commonly used to combat insomnia, but does it work?

Well.....yes and no.

Some pop a melatonin and it's lights out until morning. Others take it to little benefit - instead of waking up rested they feel groggy and anxious (me!).

How can this be?

In his book, "Chronotherapy: Resetting Your Inner Clock to Boost Mood, Alertness, and Quality Sleep", Michael Terman of Columbia University Medical Center casts light on the melatonin debate. He says standard melatonin pills are dosed to amounts way higher than the pineal gland would ever squirt out naturally. This dumps too much of the hormone into the system, which does not always clear the bloodstream by morning, hence the grogginess. Perhaps those who wake up feeling rested after taking high dose melatonin metabolize that hormone more quickly than the rest of us?

Should melatonin supplements be avoided altogether, then?

Not necessarily.

Apparently with melatonin less is more. Dr. Alfred Lewy, of Oregon Health & Science University, found that micro-doses of melatonin (0.1 milligram), taken six hours before sleep shifts the circadian clock sooner, prompting earlier sleep times. Problem is there are presently no 0.1 milligram tablets available for clinical use. And, breaking higher dose tablets into bits won't do since the micro-dose variety used in recent studies are controlled release.  But don't despair my sleep deprived friends; Dr. Terman has your backs. His lab is working on an over-the-counter, time released, micro-dose melatonin supplement. They've found their product-in-development releases the same amount of the hormone into the bloodstream as would be found in healthy adults. Plus, testing reveals it washes out by morning.

I can't wait to try this product. I have Delayed Phase Sleep Disorder and have improved my sleep by about 85% using a light box and blue blocker glasses. However, I'm always looking to knock out that last fifteen percent. On his website Dr. Terman has an email alert sign up page for when this micro-dose, controlled release melatonin becomes available (here). You better believe I'm on it!


Lewy, AJ

2006 Aug;36(6):741-52.
An open-label study of controlled-release melatonin in treatment of sleep disorders in children with autism


Is Melatonin Sabotaging Your Sleep? - Dr. Oz

Melatonin: Not a Magic Bullet for Sleep - Dr. Oz

Debate Aside; Melatonin Can Reset the Body Clock - NY Times

My Related Posts:

How I Beat Severe Insomnia a With Light Box and Blue Blocker Glasses

How I Beat Severe Insomnia (Part II): Hypnosis


**This is not a sponsored post. I do not know either researcher mentioned in this post. This blog is an affiliate, however. All affiliate profits will be donated to Kiva, a not-for-profit micro-lending organization that makes no-interest business loans to low-income entrepreneurs in the developing world.

***This post reflects my interest in sleep related issues and is not intended as medical advice.


This post is linked with Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

Tags: Chronotherapy, Insomnia, micro-dose controlled release Melatonin


  1. Thanks for this info. Someone prescribed melatonin for me after my 1998 brain injury, which resulted in many broken nights sleep and need for daytime naps. The melatonin never worked for me. It just made me even more out of it than the brain injury itself, so instead of being awake and brain injured, I'd be awake, brain injured, anxious and stupid. I have clients for whom melatonin works like a charm, though ... just not for me.

  2. Hi, Laura. That's about how melatonin made me feel, too. No different from Ambien really in that regard. I hope you found something that worked.


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