font size

Sleep Aids And Stimulants (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:


Melatonin (for example, Melatonex) is the only hormone available OTC for insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that helps regulate the body's clock or sleep-wake cycle. The secretion of melatonin is increased by darkness and decreased by light. The exact mechanism of how melatonin induces sleep has not been determined. Melatonin also decreases mental alertness and body temperature.

Melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement and is, therefore, not regulated by the FDA. It is commonly used for jet lag, insomnia, and sleep disturbances related to working night shifts. Some limited evidence suggests melatonin may be useful for treating sleep disturbances.

In 2005, MIT analyzed 17 peer-reviewed studies using melatonin. The analysis showed that melatonin was effective in helping people fall asleep at doses of 0.3 milligrams (mg). In some preparations the dosage of melatonin is significantly higher and these larger doses have shown to be less effective after only a few days of use.

If a person would like to try melatonin tablets, consult a doctor first.

Dosing: There is no established dose or time of administration. Individuals should follow the product labeling for dosing and administration.

Pregnancy and lactation: The use of melatonin during pregnancy or lactation has not been studied adequately. At high doses (more than 300 mg), melatonin may affect contraception (birth control) and increase levels of prolactin in the body. Based on past experience with other agents and the possibility of unknown risks to the fetus, melatonin should be avoided during pregnancy while breastfeeding. Consult your doctor before you use melatonin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Children: The use of melatonin in children may be effective, particularly in children with disturbed sleep due to autism spectrum disorders. However, it should not be used as a first-choice treatment in children. Consult your pediatrician before giving your child melatonin for sleep.

Drug interactions: Although melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement, it should be thought of as a drug. It has side effects and may have drug interactions that have not been identified. The level of melatonin that the body produces is increased by certain drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants or SRRIs (for example, fluoxetine [Prozac], sertraline [Zoloft], paroxetine [Paxil]) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (for example, tranylcypromine [Parnate], phenelzine [Nardil]). The interaction between these antidepressants and melatonin  used as a sleeping aid has not been assessed.

Side effects: The most common adverse effect of melatonin is drowsiness. Therefore, tasks that require alertness (for example, driving) should be avoided for four to five hours after taking melatonin. Melatonin also may also cause itching, abnormal heartbeats, and headaches. Melatonin appears to be safe when used short-term (less than three months). Long-term side effects of melatonin are unkown.

Melatonin is either derived from animal sources or synthesized in a laboratory. Melatonin obtained from animal sources has a higher likelihood of contamination, which can cause allergic reactions and viral transmission, than synthetic melatonin.

Melatonin may stimulate the immune system. People with severe allergies or other disorders that may be caused by an overactive immune system (for example, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis) should avoid using melatonin.

Other herbal products: Natural herbal supplements such as valerian, chamomile, kava kava, and others have been touted as remedies for insomnia; however, the safety or effectiveness of these products has not been documented. Consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplements to treat insomnia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Insomnia Treatment - Natural Remedies Question: Describe the natural remedies and lifestyle changes you've tried for your insomnia.
Insomnia Treatment - Causes Question: Are you stressed? If known, discuss the reason(s) for or causes of your insomnia.
Insomnia Treatment - OTC Medicine Question: Which OTC medications have you used to treat your insomnia? In your opinion, what works or what doesn't?
Insomnia Treatment - Doctors and Prescriptions Question: Why did you go to a doctor for your insomnia? What medication or treatment did he or she prescribe?
Insomnia Treatment - Caffeine and Sleep Question: Do you drink coffee, tea, or soda with caffeine? Do they affect your sleep habits? Have you cut back on caffeine?

Women's Health

Find out what women really need.

Use Pill Finder Find it Now See Interactions

Pill Identifier on RxList

  • quick, easy,
    pill identification

Find a Local Pharmacy

  • including 24 hour, pharmacies

Interaction Checker

  • Check potential drug interactions
Search the Medical Dictionary for Health Definitions & Medical Abbreviations