By Bo Martinsen, MD
Melatonin is a molecule indispensable for life. Found in most plants and living organisms, melatonin contributes to a wide range of physiological functions as an antioxidant, hormone, and anti-inflammatory agent.
In spite of its varied benefits, melatonin is still best known for its role in improving sleep and reducing jet lag. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of confusion surrounding melatonin, particular in terms of dose.
How Much Melatonin Do You Need?
The dose necessary to get benefits from certain supplements, like omega-3 fatty acids, has always appeared to be relatively stable. For an adult with chronic inflammation, studies routinely suggest the optimal dose ranges from 3 to 4 g of EPA/DHA omega-3s per day.
But when it comes to melatonin, there are huge variations from one person to another. Studies use anywhere between 1 – 100 mg of melatonin per day to document clinical effects. Furthermore, it appears that the same dose given to individuals can have very different outcomes. Consider, for instance, one study, which found that the same 10 mg melatonin dose given to a group of people could cause over 50 times higher levels of melatonin in the blood from one person to the next.
This dose discrepancy in on full display when you read anecdotes of people’s wildly different experiences taking melatonin. For instance, some people report having gotten too high a dose with only 1 mg. Others say they only feel effects with 15 mg or more of melatonin a night.
Dose variation will constitute the biggest challenge for melatonin research in the future since most clinical trials use one fixed dose. This may mean that a large number of participants will either get too high or too low a dose, impacting the results of the study.
The good thing, however, is that melatonin seems to be safe even in people who may be taking too high a dose for their needs. Studies routinely use between 20 – 100 mg/day with no significant safety concerns.
Why Do People Need Different Doses of Melatonin?
The pineal gland naturally produces melatonin to help regulate our sleep cycle. And because melatonin is in part naturally produced in the body, the melatonin dose a person may need is influenced by a number of factors, including age, genetics, and the number of melatonin receptors in the cell.
Factors like diet may also make a difference; certain foods, including tomatoes, olives and walnuts, contain notable amounts of melatonin.
Lifestyle and medication use also play a role. For example, beta-blockers are known to knock out the body’s melatonin balance and influence sleep negatively. Similarly, light pollution and exposure to blue light at bedtime can shut down the body’s natural melatonin secretion.
To make matters more complicated, the bioavailability of consuming melatonin tablets is famously low, ranging from 3 to 33 percent. Bioavailability can also be influenced by other factors, like the amount of enzymes breaking down the molecule and the amount of liquid present when the melatonin is absorbed. This is one of the reasons that we believe melatonin added to omega-3 oils, like in our Omega Restore™, could help improve bioavailability.
Are There Side Effects to Getting Too Much Melatonin?
If a person gets too much melatonin, they may experience some unpleasant effects. Some people report that if they get too high a dose, they might wake up early, wake up frequently during the night, or in a few cases, not to sleep at all. Vivid dreams or nightmares are other symptoms.
On the positive side, these are not long term effects, and typically only last for a day. In addition, the effects are strongly dose dependent; if a person gets too high a dose, studies show that reducing the dose will also diminish the side effects.
Finally, it’s important to remember that sleep is influenced by more than melatonin. For this reason, it can be beneficial to take one’s starting melatonin dose for 5 – 7 days before determining whether you need to adjust the dosage.
This article was abbreviated from a longer version published on omega3innovations.com. For the full text and references, visit:
About Dr. Bo Martinsen
Dr. Martinsen is an omega-3 specialist, innovator, and advocate for natural foods. As co-founder and CEO of Omega3 Innovations, he has created multiple patented technologies for medical devices designed to improve consumer compliance. He is also the creator of several medical food products that combine dose-effective ingredients of omega-3 fish oil with soluble fibers and other nutrients. Before Omega3 Innovations, Dr. Martinsen practiced medicine in Norway for 20 years, focusing on occupational and preventive medicine.