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I love melatonin

“I love melatonin.” I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how often someone has told me that over the past several months. Melatonin is a relatively new product at Life Time. We introduced the Douglas Labs product early in 2011 in just our online store and, based on the demand and the recommendations from our registered dietitians and personal trainers, we began offering it in our clubs a couple months ago. Though melatonin itself is far from new, it hasn’t gained the mainstream popularity you’d expect for the positive impact it has on users.

Melatonin has been shown to be beneficial for many different conditions, but its most common use is creating the buzz: improving sleep. Sleep issues seem to keep getting worse. It’s all too common for people to sit up on their laptop, working well past 10 p.m. In many cases, they don’t work because they have to; instead, they work because they can’t fall asleep. Does this sound like you? If so, read on.

Melatonin, Sleep and Stress

Melatonin is often used to reset individuals’ internal clocks, or circadian rhythms. If you’re used to staying up late and have convinced yourself you’re a “night owl,” chances are you’ve disrupted your natural sleep/wake cycle. Ideally, your body should be resting when it’s dark and moving when it’s light outside. Thanks to electricity, we can fool our mind into thinking we should be awake. However, you can’t trick your body. While some individuals can get by in the short term on limited amounts of sleep, most people need more than seven, and ideally eight or more hours of sleep each night. Getting to sleep early enough at night is just as important as getting enough total sleep time as well. It’s not the same when you sleep from midnight to 8:00 a.m. as sleeping from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Personally, my wife and I make it a point to get to sleep as close to 9:00 p.m. as possible and sleep until 5:00 a.m.

This is where melatonin comes in. Melatonin is created from the amino acid tryptophan and its primary role is to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. It is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, and its production is supposed to go up in the evening, preparing you for a restful sleep. If you haven’t been going to bed early enough, you might not be producing enough melatonin at night to become tired. Taking supplemental melatonin about a half hour before bedtime can help individuals fall asleep and achieve a deeper, more restful sleep.

If you travel and cross time zones, melatonin can be helpful for maintaining a normal sleep schedule, or for getting back on a normal sleep schedule once you return home. You may even find it’s beneficial when transitioning from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time.

Studies show you can increase your body’s production of melatonin through mild stress, such as calorie restriction or moderate exercise.[i] However, with excessive exercise or too much chronic stress, melatonin is used by the body and levels quickly fall. If you’re under chronic stress, you might not be producing enough melatonin to keep up with your body’s needs, which would explain why it’s hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Melatonin, Aging and Disease

Like many other bodily functions, melatonin production decreases with age. Again, since melatonin plays such a role in helping people to fall asleep, this could explain why older individuals find they can’t sleep as much as when they were younger. There’s compelling evidence to suggest melatonin can be beneficial in the aging process. Much of the body’s aging process it thought to occur as a result of free radical damage, and melatonin plays another role as a broad-spectrum antioxidant.i Since levels drop with age, older individuals may need more melatonin than younger people to achieve the same benefits.

Aside from its possible benefits in the aging process, melatonin seems to provide benefit for cardiovascular health as well. In animal studies, melatonin was shown to reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol levels. It’s thought the heart health benefits from melatonin use come from its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.[ii] Melatonin has also been used in cases of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, cluster and migraine headaches, insomnia associated with ADHD, hypertension and certain cancers. Melatonin has a strong safety record, but should not be used in addition to prescription depressants.[iii]


Melatonin has a pretty compelling story, especially in our over-stressed, sleepless society. The antioxidant benefits are strong, and it’s surprising we don’t hear more about melatonin’s benefits related to the other disease states above as well. Individuals vary in how well they absorb melatonin supplements, so the ideal dosage varies for each individual. It can take a little trial and error to determine what dosage is most effective for each person. There are no miracle supplements, but this one does provide some pretty good benefits. Ask someone how much better they feel after a good night’s sleep and they might tell you it’s a miracle. We've chosen to carry melatonin from Douglas Labs, which you can find at LifeCafe or in the Life Time Online Store

Ask questions and share thoughts in the comments section below.

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management 

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

[i] Tan D-X, Manchester LC, Terron MP, Flores LJ, Reiter RJ. One molecule, many derivatives: A never-ending interaction of melatonin with reactive oxygen and nitrogen species? J Pineal Res. 2007;42(1)28-42

[ii] Tengattini S, Reiter RJ, Tan DX, Terron MP, Rodella LF, Rezzani R. Cardiovascular disease: protective effects of melatonin. J Pineal Res. 2008;44(1)16-25

[iii] Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Melatonin.

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Reader Comments (11)

I've heard that using sleep pills adversely affects your system in the long run. So would using melatonin supplements, adversely affect the ability of my body to produce them naturally over a long time? I am considering using these temporarily as I seem to be constantly getting up at different times during the night. I, however, dont want to become dependent on this drug (or any drug for that matter) just to get a good night's sleep.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSri

Your concern is a common one, and is also a valid one. Using melatonin is far safer than prescription or over the counter sleep drugs. Temporary melatonin use is extremely helpful and will actually get you into deep, restful sleep better than most OTC or Rx sleep aids too. That true, deep sleep is exactly what your body needs to ensure it can regain natural ability to produce adequate melatonin again.

Higher than optimal cortisol levels may also be involved with decreases in melatonin production and sleep disturbances. In this case, no amount of melatonin will offer a complete fix unless you also address the cortisol-adrenal function issue. Have you thought about doing the Stress & Resilience test Life Time offers?

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Kriegler, RD/LD

Wow, that was quick. Thanks for your reply. I was not aware of that test at Lifetime TBH. Would that be something that could be covered under HSA?

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSri

The Stress & Resilience and many other blood tests Life Time offers are often covered by Health Savings Accounts, but we cannot guarantee you'll be re-imbursed by your provider.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Kriegler, RD/LD

I understand the benefits, but can you tell what the correct dosing is?

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

Is it safe to take melatonin if you're also taking glucosamine for joint pain?

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Fleming

Hello to all be sure that you start on a low dose of this medication, because taking more than 3 mg at a time can make you have vivid nightmares. Also I would like to add that my physician states that there is no real health value in taking melatonin.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLa

Melatonin is safe to take with glucosamine as well as several other foundational nutrition supplements. Dosages range from 3-18mg and as La points out, start with conservative dosing until you find a great blend of restful sleep followed by good wakefulness in the morning. Vivid dreaming is actually a good sign as this means you are finally reaching deep and REM sleep stages. If nightmares are what predominates when this type of sleep is achieved, perhaps one should listen to relaxing music or meditate before laying down to sleep.

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Kriegler, RD/LD

I've noticed that if I take 5mg at bedtime, the first part of the night's sleep is fairly restless. It's almost as though the melatonin is having the opposite of the intended effect. I'm not having nightmares or any vivd dreams - it's just that I can't seem to settle and am constantly figiting. After a few hours of fading and wrestling, I do fall asleep and wake normally, feeling for the most part rested, and not like I'd only gotten 5 hours of sleep.

Thankfully, I don't really need melatonin for sleep, but thought I'd give it a go after reading the article. Typically I'm in bed by 10:30 and alseep in 20 minutes or less, and wake without an alarm around 5:30 or 6:00 (sometimes earlier). I wonder what might account for this restlessness, and whether or not this could lead to issues after a while....

I also take ZMA, DHEA, and fish oil before bed, which is normal and doesn't cause an issue.

January 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip M Zeuner

Phillip: What type of melatonin are you using? Is it a sublingual, a capsule or a tablet? From experience, the sublingual seems to work best, especially if you're eating fairly close to bedtime. The suggested doses can vary quite a bit, too. Personally, 3 mg is perfect for me, but I know a few very healthy individuals who take as much as 18 grams when they're facing disrupted sleep.

January 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

I saw the melatonin at the Life Cafe at Lifetime and I read the bottle and it said to not take untess advised my a physician...etc. So I was worried about its safety. Also, do you take it every night, long term like months or years? Or is it only something to take on a limited, temporary basis? Thanks for your help.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara

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