Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Melatonin

4-minute read

Melatonin helps control sleep and waking patterns. It can be taken as a pill to help with sleep problems, including jet lag and insomnia.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It controls the body’s night and day cycles.

When it gets dark, the body produces more melatonin to help a person to fall asleep. When it is light, the body produces less melatonin and prepares to awake.

What is the role of melatonin?

Melatonin controls the body’s sleeping and waking cycles. It is also claimed that melatonin is an antioxidant that can boost the immune system and prevent ageing and cancer. But these claims aren’t proven.

Taken in pill form, melatonin can re-set the ‘body clock’ and help you sleep and wake at the right times. This can help if you have travelled overseas and have jet lag; if you do shift work; or if you are vision-impaired. It can help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep for longer.

Unlike sleeping pills, melatonin shouldn’t make you feel sleepy the next day and you aren’t likely to come to be dependent on them.

What happens if I have too much or too little melatonin?

Too little melatonin can lead to sleep problems, depression and other mental illnesses. Too much melatonin can cause headaches, drowsiness, dizziness and nausea.

The body’s natural melatonin level tends to go down as we age. Low levels of melatonin can also be caused by not having enough sleep, travelling across time zones, doing shift work and taking some medicines. Coffee, alcohol and nicotine can also lower melatonin levels.

In some people, melatonin levels are too high. This can happen because they are taking too many melatonin pills; they remain in the dark for too long (for example, on a long-haul flight); they are taking some medicines; or they have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

How can I adjust my melatonin levels?

The best way to boost your melatonin levels naturally is by getting enough regular sleep, eating regular meals and avoiding coffee and nicotine. Avoiding bright lights can also help.

Watching TV or using tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep. The artificial blue light from these types of devices suppresses the release of melatonin.

If your levels are too high (for example, if you have recently got off a long-haul flight), you can go out into the light in the morning and do some exercise in the evening.

Melatonin is available in Australia as a pill called Circadin. You will need a prescription from your doctor to buy it.

There are 2 ways to use melatonin pills. The first is to take them so you feel sleepy and fall asleep more easily. It normally takes about 20 minutes to start to feel sleepy after you take the melatonin. Discuss the best way to do this with your doctor.

The other reason is to help re-set your body clock. Take the pill around bedtime in the time zone you are travelling to. It works better if you combine it with bright light therapy – going outdoors into the light during the morning.

It’s important to talk to your doctor about how to take melatonin safely:

  • Because it makes you sleepy, you shouldn’t drive or operate machinery after taking melatonin pills.
  • Taking melatonin if you have drunk alcohol or are taking other sedative medicines or natural products is also not recommended.
  • Don’t use melatonin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Melatonin should be used as prescribed by your doctor – generally this will be for temporary sleep problems. If you have a long-term sleep disorder, there are other things you can do to help you sleep. These include developing healthy sleep habits and making other lifestyle changes.

There are also ways of helping children to sleep better without using melatonin.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2019

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Melatonin

What is melatonin? Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin levels vary in 24 hour cycles and are controlled by our body clock. Normally its production is reduced by being in bright light. Levels increase at night. This is why it is often called the hormone of darkness

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Melatonin and Children

What is melatonin? For general information on melatonin please see our melatonin web page.What can children use melatonin for? In children, melatonin is typically used to treat difficulties with going to sleep or staying asleep. It may benefit children who are developing normally as well as children with Attention

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Jet lag | HealthEngine Blog

Jet lag, also known as circadian dysynchronism or flight dysrhythmia, is a temporary condition caused by rapid air travel across multiple time zones. It is characterised by disturbed sleep patterns, fatigue, insomnia and irritability, which develop because of the bodys inability to adapt to the new time zone.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)

What is delayed sleep phase syndrome?Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) is a disorder where you find it harder to go to sleep until very late at night. This can be as late as 4AM. In the morning, you will want to sleep in for longer, perhaps until the early afternoon. If you have to wake up earlier than this, then y

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Jet lag: how to avoid it - myDr.com.au

Spending a few hours travelling by air can make you feel low, tired and lethargic. This is called jet lag.

Read more on myDr website

Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder (ASPD)

What is ASPD?This is a sleep disorder where you keep going to bed and waking up too early. For example, you might find it hard to stay up until a normal bed time such as 10pm. You might feel a strong urge to go to bed as early as 8-9pm. Once in bed you fall asleep quickly and sleep well for a few hours. However

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Menstrual Cycle and Sleep

Does sleep quality change across the menstrual cycle in women? Up to 7 in 10 women say that their sleep changes just before their period. The most common time for this is 3 to 6 days before having the period.Are sleeping problems a common part of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)? Yes. Most women with menstrual cycle rel

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Sleep physiology | HealthEngine Blog

Sleep, a state of reduced awareness and movement, occurs in a sleep cycle of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Sleep & fatigue | Jean Hailes

Insomnia and not getting a good nights sleep can be frustrating and impact on your day to day living and quality of life. Sleep problems can be caused by changes in your daily routine, times of worry, a new baby, shift work, sleep apnoea but the good new

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Seasonal affective disorder - myDr.com.au

Seasonal affective disorder isa type of depression striking in the autumn and winter months. Symptoms include difficulty waking up, extreme tiredness and lack of energy.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo