What Time You Should Take Melatonin If You Need Help Sleeping

Most people take it right before they need to sleep. Big mistake.
PHOTO: istockphoto

Sleeping isn't a big problem for me. In fact, I spend 80 percent of my weekends napping. Whenever I travel, I book really early flights because in my head, I get to where I need to be without losing a full day (read: there's still time to explore when I land). But this also means I need to sleep ~extra~ early for say, a 4 a.m. flight.

For this to happen, I take melatonin to help me sleep earlier. What I've been doing wrong all this time, however, is taking them right before my adjusted bedtime. Apparently, if you're going to rely on melatonin, you need to give it a 90-minute head start. 

Let me break it down for you: Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body's pineal gland. When the sun sets, the brain turns on the pineal gland and melatonin is naturally released into the blood. Apparently, this happens around 9 p.m. (but also depending on how early you wake up). 

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The rising level of melatonin in the blood makes you feel less alert or awake. Like many things that happen in the body, it takes time for you to feel its effects. According to Dr. Michael Breus, "Most people don't realize that if you are ingesting melatonin in a pill format, it takes almost 90 minutes for plasma concentration levels to actually get there."

If, however, you want other options on how to fall asleep quicker, try:

  1. Swapping your phone for a book. The blue light emitted by your gadget impacts your sleep and keeps your mind alert. Reading a book is a better way to go if you can't just lay in the dark and count sheep.
  2. Drinking tea. Tea has been linked to treating insomnia for years. Chamomile and lavender are two of the most well known sleep aids.
  3. Cutting out sugar and alcohol from your diet (at least at night). It's sad, but true. Most desserts, alcohol, and even cigarettes are considered "stimulants." Save your treats for lunch! 
  4. Establishing a routine. This is really the best way to go. If you sleep and get up at the same time, your body gets used to it. If you wake up on your own (read: without an alarm clock), it usually means you're well-rested. 

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