Decoding Your Sleep – How Long Does It Take for Melatonin to Work?

Decoding Your Sleep – How Long Does It Take for Melatonin to Work?

Embark with CARE on a journey into the realm of sleep, where we dive into the intricate workings of melatonin, your body's natural timekeeper. Together, we will unravel the science behind melatonin's role in the natural sleep-wake cycle, the circadian rhythm. From its production in the brain to its nuanced dance with light and darkness, we explore how this biochemical conductor influences the balance of wakefulness and sleep. Prepare to learn about the fascinating biological interplay between melatonin and your sleep and gain insights into how you can biohack your sleep for optimized health and well-being.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Sleep
7 min read · Jan 29, 2024

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What Is Melatonin?

Do you encounter sleep problems, insomnia, or suffer from jet lag? Melatonin, often referred to as the “sleep hormone,” is a naturally occurring compound produced by the pineal gland in the brain. This hormone plays a crucial role in regulating the body's circadian rhythm, the internal clock that governs the sleep-wake cycle. [1]

Melatonin production is influenced by environmental cues, primarily light and darkness, which signal the body to adjust its levels accordingly.

We will now take a look at this in more detail.

How Is Melatonin Important for Your Body?

As already mentioned, the synthesis and release of melatonin are intricately tied to the body's circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. This process is influenced by environmental cues, primarily light and darkness. [1]

In the absence of light or light exposure, your pineal gland is stimulated to produce melatonin. Specialized cells in the retina of your eye send signals to the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus, indicating that it's becoming dark. Consequently, the pineal gland begins to convert serotonin, a neurotransmitter, into melatonin. This conversion is facilitated by a series of enzymatic reactions. [1]

Now you roughly know about the production of melatonin, but how fast does it work?

As melatonin levels rise in the evening, it signals to the body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Melatonin interacts with specific receptors in your brain, particularly in the hypothalamus, helping to reduce alertness and promote the onset of sleep. This interaction plays a crucial role in synchronizing your body's internal clock with the external day-night cycle.

In the morning, your exposure to light inhibits melatonin production. As daylight increases, your melatonin levels drop, signaling your body to wake up and become alert. This dance between melatonin production and exposure to light helps maintain a balance in the sleep-wake cycle, ensuring that you are alert and awake during daylight hours and ready to sleep when darkness falls.

Disruptions to this cycle, such as exposure to artificial blue light at night, can impact melatonin production and, subsequently, disturb the normal patterns of sleep and wakefulness. [2]

Other Important Functions of Melatonin

Melatonin's significance extends beyond its role in promoting sleep. It acts as a master regulator of the body's internal clock, influencing various physiological processes, including your body temperature, blood pressure, and hormonal secretion.

Additionally, melatonin is a potent antioxidant, helping to combat oxidative stress and supporting your cellular health. Its multifaceted functions make melatonin a critical component in maintaining your overall well-being and health. [3]

So, how long does it take for melatonin to kick in?

How Long Does It Take for Melatonin to Take Effect?

The onset of melatonin to kick in varies among people and is influenced by several factors, such as age and individual health aspects. Generally, when taken as a supplement, melatonin starts to take effect within 30 minutes to an hour. [4]

But how can you optimize the onset and effect of melatonin supplements? The key when supplementing melatonin is to mimic the natural rise in melatonin levels that occurs in the evening as your body prepares for sleep.

Keep in mind that factors such as the correct dosage, form (instant-release or extended-release melatonin), and individual responsiveness can influence how quickly melatonin induces sleepiness and relaxation.

How Does Melatonin Affect Your Sleep?

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Melatonin is instrumental in promoting sleep by signaling to the body that it is time to wind down. Its interaction with receptors in the brain helps reduce alertness and ease the transition from wakefulness to a state of calmness and relaxation that allows you to fall asleep.

Research suggests that melatonin not only shortens the time it takes to fall asleep but may also improve the overall quality of sleep. [1]

However, you must understand that melatonin is not a sedative but rather a regulator of the sleep-wake cycle.

How to Take Melatonin?

How melatonin works is influenced by the method of supplement administration. There are over-the-counter pills, gummies, and other sleep aids that contain melatonin that can help you with your sleep or be a form of treatment for mild sleep disorders such as sleep insomnia. A medication that contains melatonin is called a chronobiotic, which means that the drug shifts biological rhythms. [5]

Sublingual or oral forms are common, with sublingual options often leading to faster absorption. The dose of melatonin is a crucial factor, with lower doses (0.5 to 3 mg) often being more effective than higher doses.

Timing is equally important; taking melatonin about 30-60 minutes before your intended bedtime aligns with the body's natural circadian rhythm, enhancing its sleep-inducing effects. [6]

Consult with your healthcare provider and seek medical advice before you take any melatonin pills or sleep medicine.

Melatonin Supplements – Synthetic or Natural?

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Natural melatonin supplements, found in certain foods, offer a holistic approach to enhancing sleep quality. Studies support that foods like tart cherries, grapes, eggs, fish and nuts contain melatonin, promoting an increase of melatonin in the serum. Incorporating these items into your diet can contribute to a more natural regulation of the sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep efficiency. [7]

On the other hand, synthetic melatonin supplements are engineered to mimic the hormone's natural form. These supplements provide a precise and controlled dose, allowing for tailored adjustments based on individual needs. While natural sources offer a more gradual and subtle boost to melatonin levels, synthetic supplements provide a more direct and immediate impact, making them advantageous if you seek a fast, good night’s sleep. [1]

Both natural and synthetic melatonin options can be effective, but choosing between them may depend on personal preferences, dietary restrictions, and the desired speed of melatonin's influence on your sleep patterns.

Consulting with a healthcare professional can help you make informed decisions based on your unique circumstances and preferences regarding taking melatonin.

How Long Does Melatonin Stay in Your Body?

While the onset of melatonin's effects is relatively quick, its duration in the body is limited. The half-life of melatonin is approximately 20 to 60 minutes, meaning that within a few hours, its levels significantly decrease. [1]

This brief presence underscores the importance of taking melatonin at the right time to align it with your body's natural sleep-wake cycle.

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Melatonin?

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Melatonin is generally regarded as safe for short-term use when taken at appropriate doses. However, like any supplement, melatonin tablets and sleeping pills may have side effects, and individual responses can vary.

CARE has prepared a list of common side effects, along with brief descriptions of melatonin supplementation: [8]


Some people experience headaches as a side effect of melatonin supplementation. [8]


Melatonin can cause dizziness in some users. This effect may be more pronounced in people who are sensitive to changes in blood pressure. [8]


Nausea is another potential side effect of melatonin. It can range from mild discomfort to more severe feelings of queasiness. [8]

Drowsiness & Daytime Sleepiness:

While the primary purpose of melatonin is to induce sleepiness, excessive drowsiness can occur, especially if the dosage is higher than necessary. This may lead to difficulty concentrating or performing tasks that require alertness and result in daytime sleepiness. [8]

Vivid Dreams or Nightmares:

Some people report experiencing vivid dreams or nightmares when taking melatonin. The exact mechanism behind how melatonin supplements influence your dreams is not fully understood but may be related to changes in your sleep patterns. Melatonin can increase REM sleep, during which you usually dream. [9]

Lowered Body Temperature:

Melatonin supplementation has been associated with a mild decrease in body temperature, which may be undesirable for people who are already sensitive to feeling cold. [8]

How to Optimize Your Sleep & Health With CARE

As a member of CARE, your regular Health Check-ups, coupled with our in-depth blood analysis, serve as proactive measures to optimize your overall wellness. Our health assessments provide you with crucial insights into your biomarkers, unlocking a personalized roadmap for optimizing your health.

Monitoring specific biomarkers in your blood can unveil valuable information about your hormonal balance, dietary needs, and overall health status. Being aware of certain blood levels enables you to implement interventions where necessary in time to tailor your lifestyle choices for optimal outcomes like better sleep and optimized health.

From adjusting your sleep routine based on cortisol levels to fine-tuning your diet according to cholesterol and nutrient profiles, this knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions about your health.

CARE helps you foster a proactive approach to taking your health into your own hands and building a foundation for your fitness and wellness.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!