Melatonin supplements come in many forms, made by numerous brands with various ingredients and dosages. With so many lozenges, gummies, pills, sprays and candies available, choosing the best melatonin supplement for your needs can be difficult. Here's what doctors say about choosing melatonin supplements, plus a list of just about every type you can get.
Table of contents
- Benefits of melatonin supplements
- When you should take melatonin supplements
- How to choose the best melatonin supplements for you
- Types of melatonin supplements
Benefits of melatonin supplements
Melatonin supplements can be beneficial for those who have trouble falling asleep, people with sleep disorders, and travelers wishing to counteract jet lag's effects.
"Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the brain by the pineal gland. Melatonin affects sleep-wake cycles, and melatonin supplementation is marketed to enhance circadian rhythms and improve sleep quality and efficiency," says Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, FACEP, FUHM, FACMT, Medical Toxicologist, Co-Medical Director, and Interim Executive Director at National Capital Poison Center.
Melatonin supplements may help with:
- Jet lag
- Anxiety before and after surgery (National Institutes of Health)
- Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD)
- Child sleep disorders (National Institutes of Health)
- Shift work disorder
- Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders
- Preventing macular degeneration
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Immune health and other physiological functions
"Melatonin supplements can be a good short-term solution for people who struggle with healthy sleep. Melatonin is meant to help people fall asleep more easily and get their circadian cycles back on track," says Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD and Medical Content Expert at Sleeping Ocean.
Melatonin may also play a role in physiological mechanisms such as glucose levels and immune system function (National Library of Medicine). Some studies have shown that melatonin could delay macular degeneration, help with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and alleviate symptoms of Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Though melatonin is often recommended as a sleep aid, it's important to note that melatonin doesn't work like a sedative that forces you to fall asleep. Rather, it tells your body that it's time to sleep.
"Melatonin is best thought of not as the 'sleep hormone,' but actually the hormone that signals to the body that 'it is dark/nighttime,'" explains psychologist Dan Ford, founder of The Better Sleep Clinic. "Scientifically, melatonin's benefit is to help regulate the body's circadian rhythm (body clock) and signal the ideal time for sleep, not if you'll actually fall asleep."
When you should take melatonin supplements
"Melatonin is often indicated for jet lag, insomnia, shift workers and others who are dealing with shifted sleep and wake routines," says Dr. Hsu.
You should consider taking melatonin supplements if:
- You're having issues falling and staying asleep
- You wish to counteract the effects of jet lag
- You have another condition melatonin is indicated for, especially if recommended or prescribed by a doctor
"Some individuals cannot produce enough melatonin naturally, and the correct timing of melatonin release is difficult for some people's bodies, such as those who cross time zones or whose jobs involve alternating shift work," says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. "For those people, melatonin supplements may help reset circadian rhythms and improve sleep."
If you have a medical disorder, it's best to consult a doctor to identify how melatonin might help.
"In terms of actual scientific evidence, melatonin supplements are indicated for the treatment of circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders, such as delayed or advanced sleep phase disorder, jet lag, and shift work disorder," says Dr. Ford. "There is also scientific support for using melatonin with some parasomnias (e.g., REM behavior disorder) and for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism spectrum conditions and potentially ADHD, but that's probably due to co-occurrence of delayed sleep phase."
How to choose the best melatonin supplements for you
Melatonin supplements are not created equal, so you must be selective to ensure you're getting high-quality melatonin with an accurate dosage. Here's what to look for.
1. Quality ingredients
Melatonin is classified as a supplement, not a medication, and isn't highly regulated by the FDA. Look for supplements with minimal ingredients and without many fillers or sugars. Buy from trusted brands with quality processes in place and read reviews before deciding.
"A recent study found that 71% of melatonin supplements were inaccurate. Ranges of mislabeled melatonin content went from -83% to +478% of the labeled content," says Ford.
Improper labeling isn't just convenient – it could be dangerous.
"Recent data suggests melatonin overdoses are on the rise, second only to vitamin pill overdoses, especially among children," adds Dr. Ford, who explains that overdoses increased by 530% between 2012 and 2021, including 287 intensive care admissions for children.
Keep in mind that the best melatonin for adults might not be the best melatonin for kids. While gummies and chocolates might seem like a great way to get kids to take melatonin, they could also encourage children to eat more than they should and unintentionally overdose.
2. Dietary and health considerations
Be mindful of dietary and health considerations. For example, people with diabetes should look for low-sugar melatonin supplements. Melatonin gummies, chocolates and candies could have a lot of calories that aren't ideal for those watching their waistlines. Some supplements contain artificial preservatives and dyes that could cause allergic reactions.
"Consider what formulation may be best for the person taking it. Gummy medications may contain high amounts of sugar or other sweeteners that can cause unwanted effects like gas and bloating," says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. "People with sensitive digestive systems or diabetes may want to avoid gummy formulations. Some people, like young children, may have difficulty taking pills."
On the other end of the spectrum, some supplements are made with organic, natural ingredients that satisfy vegan diets, so you have plenty of options to explore.
In addition to dosage accuracy, you should check the amount of melatonin in each supplement. Most people do not need 10mg or even 5mg to get the desired effect – often, 2mg to 3mg is enough to help with sleep.
"I tell people that melatonin is not a hormone where 'more is better,'" says Dr. Ford. "In fact, often less is better, and in treatment of conditions where melatonin is indicated, the suggested doses begin at 0.5mg."
Dr. Hsu cautions shoppers to be careful with dosage: "It's always better to start with lower melatonin contents and increase the dose gradually if needed. Plus, it's best to consult with one's physician before taking any new supplements."
4. Shelf life
Some types of melatonin supplements have limited shelf lives. If you only take melatonin occasionally, short shelf lives could waste money when you need to throw away unused supplements. For example, pills and lozenges tend to keep longer than gummies and chocolates.
5. Additional ingredients
Some melatonin supplements include additional ingredients that could help you achieve the desired results. For example, some lozenges contain ashwagandha, an adaptogen that promotes calmness and may help you enjoy a more restful night's sleep. Others have ingredients such as CBD and l-theanine.
"The first thing people should pay attention to is the ingredient list," says Dr. Hsu. "It's crucial to check whether the supplement contains any additional components."
6. Personal preference
Often, the best melatonin supplement comes down to personal preference. Some people would rather take a pill and forget about it. Others enjoy savoring flavors like vanilla lavender and or strawberry before bed. Some people like soft gummies, others like hard lozenges. Consider which type of melatonin "delivery" you prefer when evaluating your options.
"The form of the supplement doesn't really play a big role. The dosage is more important," explains Dr. Hsu. "So, shoppers can pick based on their personal preferences. For example, melatonin gummies might contain sweeteners or gelatin, which some people don't consume. Other brands can make the pill slightly too big and hard to swallow for some people."
Types of melatonin supplements
Compare some of the most common types of melatonin supplements.
Melatonin lozenges melt in the mouth, so melatonin gets absorbed through oral tissue, which can lead to faster onset. They're typically flavorful, and some brands are made with natural, organic and vegan ingredients that meet specific dietary requirements.
Many gummies taste like candy, which is great but can lead to overconsumption and even potential overdoses. Some gummies contain added sugar and other sweeteners, high calories, gelatins that can cause bloating, and dyes that some people are allergic to.
Patches are applied directly to the skin. Unlike melatonin supplements that are ingested, it’s uncertain how much melatonin is absorbed from patches.
Sprays offer a quick way to get melatonin, though some people might not like spraying the solution into their mouths. They may contain alcohol. Some types are intended to be sprayed on pillows, bedding and in bedrooms, but they’re probably ineffective since they’re not ingested.
Liquids and liquid drops
Liquid melatonin may offer fast absorption when you take a few drops before bed. Like sprays, liquids and liquid drops may contain alcohol.
Pills and tablets
Melatonin pills and tablets come in multiple forms, including soft gels/gelcaps, fast-dissolve tabs, time-release pills and traditional pills. They’re similar to taking medication in that they have no flavor (or a bitter taste). They’re suitable for those who want to take their melatonin and forget it, but not for those who prefer to savor it. Some pills may be difficult for some people to swallow.
Vapes, pens and diffusers
Vaping is becoming a more popular delivery system, but you must inhale and draw melatonin and other ingredients into your lungs, which could damage cells and cause long-term respiratory complications such as fibrosis and asthma (Reuters).
Topical lotions and creams
You can apply melatonin lotions and creams directly to your skin. Some might feature additional ingredients to nourish the skin, such as shea butter and vitamin E. Since these lotions and creams are topically applied, there’s no guarantee of how much melatonin gets absorbed, so it’s difficult to control the dosage.
Melatonin soap is a potential option for those who like to take a shower or bath to unwind before bed. Like other topical melatonin, however, there’s no guarantee how much gets absorbed through the skin.
Chocolate and other candy
Chocolate melatonin and other candy formulations are delicious alternatives to pills, patches and sprays. Like gummies, melatonin candies could have added sugar and sweeteners that are high in calories, so they might not be the best for those watching their weight or who have diabetes. Some chocolates have caffeine, which could counteract melatonin, and if you eat sweets before bed, you’ll probably need to brush your teeth again.
Melatonin tea comes in different flavors and formulations, offering the ability to adjust your tea to your palate. Consistent dosing could be an issue, and you must brew it nightly. If you’re using melatonin for sleep, seek a caffeine-free version.
Melatonin supplements can help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and enjoy a restful night’s sleep, but they’re not created equal. Compare your options to ensure you’re getting high-quality ingredients and accurate dosages with no contaminants – all in a form you’ll enjoy taking – to identify the best melatonin supplements for you.
Disclaimer: The information stated in this article is for educational purposes only. The information stated is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease, condition, or other physical or mental ailment of the human body. The desire to make any changes to one's dietary habits or supplementation should be consulted and discussed with a licensed medical professional.