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How Long Does it Take for Melatonin to Work?

Melatonin is the most popular sleeping supplement in the world. It’s estimated that around 1.3% of all Americans take melatonin. That’s 3.1 million. One common question is how long does it take for melatonin to work? After all, you want to fall asleep soundly and – preferable quickly – after taking melatonin.

Today we’re going to discuss how long you’d have to wait to feel the melatonin effects. But we’ll also talk about other factors that influence this, whether or not you can make it work faster.

Also, for those that say that they do not feel the effects of melatonin: it’s possible that you are, but are doing other things that hinder the melatonins effect from fully taking place. We’ll talk about those in the end.

How long does melatonin take to work?

Here’s the short answer:

In general for most people, it takes about 30 minutes to start feeling the sleepy effects.

However, there’s a range for different people. You might feel it after an hour, whereas I tend to get sleepy after 20 minutes.

This is because after you take melatonin, the supplement needs to go through your digestive system. Then it needs to be taken up into your blood and cross the blood-brain barrier. That’s only when it can start to have its effects.

Quick dissolving vs slow-release melatonin

Look, melatonin is sold in 3 different release tablets/gums:

  • Quick dissolving
  • Slow release

Now, these names imply already what type of effect they have. Most people do fine with the regular variant. But there can be instances when you’d prefer a quicker effect – and times when you’d like to have a slow release.

For example: you regularly take slow release melatonin around 10.30 at night. And you wake up at 7.30. Only today you need to work overtime. You only come home at 11, but you’re not sleepy yet. In this case it might be a good idea to take a quick dissolving tablet.

Other factors that influence how long it takes

Just like with any other supplement that goes through the digestive system before it works, there are many other factors that influence uptake. It goes without saying if you just had a large meal and then pop your melatonin, that it won’t work as fast as if you’d taken it on an empty stomach.

Here are some other factors that determine how long does it take for melatonin to work:

  • Body weight
  • Dosage
  • Age
  • Empty stomach

Can you make it work faster?

In general I’d say you cannot make melatonin work faster. The reason for that is because many factors are outside of your control. You cannot change your metabolism.

What you can do however, is optimize the process. But that needs some planning and forethought.

If you take regular (quick dissolving) melatonin and you do not have a large meal in your stomach, then you’ve already optimized the uptake of melatonin for 80%.

Some people might argue that you can take MORE melatonin to make it work quicker. But research has shown that for melatonin more doesn’t have an effect. It’s recommended to start at the lowest dosage of 0.3 grams and then see if it has an effect.

The placebo effect can also help

If you’ve taken melatonin many times throughout your life, even the act of taking the pill can already make you feel more sleepy. I certainly experience this and the moment I take melatonin, I quickly start to become tired.

My body and brain are conditioned that they’ve associated melatonin with falling asleep quickly and sleeping for a long deep sleep.

So in this case, I might be off to dream land already after 10 minutes. Even though the melatonin technically isn’t working yet.

Does it matter? I don’t think so. Melatonin is supposed to help you sleep better. So it doesn’t matter which road it takes as long as it accomplishes the goal.

Maybe something else is stopping you from sleeping?

One common problem with melatonin is that its effect is subtle. With a bit of willpower or outside circumstances it’s not that difficult to override its effect.

When you take melatonin, it pushes you subtly into the direction of sleep. If you then take this push, get ready for bed and lay down, it will be easier to fall asleep.

However, if you keep on watching a scary horror movie and get a cup of coffee – you’re probably not going to feel sleepy.

The stimuli from the coffee and the movie will be stronger than the subtle push of the melatonin.

So in this case you yourself might be the limiting factor for how long it takes.

how long does it take for melatonin to work
If this is you at 2 AM in the morning, you might be stopping melatonin from working correctly.

You can see melatonin as the navigation in your car. If you follow its instructions you’ll get to where you want to go faster.

But if you don’t, and go in random directions (or opposite), you might not even end up at your destination (sleep). Or it may take you two times as long.

Here’s a list of things that will hinder how long it takes for melatonin to work:

  • Exposure to blue light in the evening
  • Stress
  • Cafeïne
  • Other exciting stimuli

Also, if you’re simply not tired yet, the push from melatonin can be not strong enough to make you tired. For example, I could take all the melatonin I want at 11AM, I am probably not going to fall asleep (unless you count my 2PM power nap!)

Conclusions melatonin timeline

If you take melatonin, you’ll likely feel the sleepy effects in about 30 minutes. It can be as early as 15 minutes if you’re sensitive and took it on an empty stomach. Or it can be as long as 1 hour if you have a tolerance and just ate.

Important to note is that there are some things you can do to stop melatonin from working. Things such as coffee, blue light exposure or other exciting things may cancer the push melatonin gives you towards sleep.

By Adrianus

Since childhood I've tried hundreds of little experiments to feel better, learn faster and perform higher (e.g. supplements, sports, psychological tricks, sleep and wacky diets).
After I graduated university in 2016, I basically found that sleep was the #1 factor to improve every aspect of life.
Bad sleep = bad life. I started SleepInvestor in 2017 to share my experiments and thoughts about sleep.

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