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Nanaimo, BC V9T 2K8


Melatonin for sleep – does it actually work?

In short, yes! But there are some nuances to using it most effectively and safely.

  1. Be aware of the administration route.

Check the bottle – some brands carry tablets that are meant to be dissolved under the tongue, whereas others are pills that you swallow whole. Make sure you are using it in the way recommended by the manufacturer. 

  • Take it 30 minutes before going to bed.

It takes melatonin a little while to work, so it’s best if you can remember to take it about 30 minutes before bed.

  • The lower doses can sometimes be more effective.

There is some evidence that lower doses (eg. 1 – 3 mg) can actually work better than higher doses of melatonin. This might be a surprise, as most sleeping supplements or medications have a stronger effect at higher doses.

  • Avoid bright light.

Both our endogenous (ie. produced within our bodies) and exogenous (ie. produced outside of our bodies) melatonin can be inactivated by light exposure to our retinas1. After taking melatonin, it is important to stay in dim light to avoid this happening.

  • It can be taken again if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Because melatonin has a relatively short half life (ie. the amount of time it takes something to break down by 50% in the body), melatonin has mostly left your system after about 4 hours or so. This means that you can safely take a second dose if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep, as the second dose will be mostly out of your system by the time you get up in the morning. Keep in mind your own personal metabolism however, as there are some people that metabolize melatonin very slowly, and can still feel sleepy from it well into the next morning.

  • Melatonin should not be used by certain groups.

You should not use melatonin if you are pregnant, or if you have severe liver or kidney disease. It can also interact with certain blood thinners and anti-seizure medication.

Lastly, be aware of the role that melatonin plays in your sleep and overall wellbeing.

Whether it’s melatonin, another natural supplement, or a prescribed medication for sleep, our bodies can fall into a troublesome pattern when we take any sort of substance to go to sleep. This is because it can create an unconscious relationship between our brain, body, and the bed, in that we need to take something in order to sleep well, and further serve to worsen our sleep issues. In reality, many people can achieve deep and restful sleep without needing to take melatonin or any other substance to sleep, if they have the proper tools and strategies for achieving healthy sleep.

If melatonin is working well for you and you are not relying on it to get to sleep every evening, it is likely working well for you. On the other hand if you are needing melatonin or something else to sleep every night, it might be worth looking more deeply at the role it plays in your sleep and what your other sleep-related behaviours are. Working with a practitioner who offers cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) can give you the tools needed to allow you to fall asleep naturally, without needing to take something to fall asleep.

If you’d like to learn more about getting a restful sleep from a holistic perspective, contact Pacific Sleep to book an in-person, phone, or virtual appointment with Dr. Houwing.


  1. Tosini, G., Baba, K., Hwang, C. K., & Iuvone, P. M. (2012). Melatonin: an underappreciated player in retinal physiology and pathophysiology. Experimental eye research, 103, 82–89.

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At Pacific Sleep Care, we are committed to building knowledge of sleep apnea symptoms and the health benefits of various treatments. Our patients’ well-being is our top priority, and our team enjoys working with people to restore healthy sleep patterns and improve their quality of life.

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