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Understanding the Differences Between Prescription, OTC, and Natural Sleep Aids

The supplement can improve your odds of getting to sleep – provided you follow these steps.

For occasional sleepless nights or short-term help with sleep struggles, some people turn to sleep aids. One of the most common options is melatonin, available both as a prescription medication and as an over-the-counter supplement. Melatonin has been shown to help people who have difficulty falling asleep as well as occasional sleeplessness. It can be especially effective for people with shift work jobs that require sleep during daylight hours and those experiencing jet lag after travelling. Discover more about how melatonin can help you sleep better.

What It Is
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that affects your sleep-wake cycle. Its levels rise in the evening (making you feel sleepy) and fall in the morning (helping you to become more alert). Our bodies typically produce enough melatonin to help regulate this sleep-wake cycle effectively, but for times when sleep is hard to come by (a stressful work week or while traveling, say), melatonin supplements can help. If you do decide to take melatonin, the following tips will help you get the most out of the supplement.

  • Don’t go overboard. You don’t need to take a huge dose. One to three milligrams of melatonin is recommended.
  • Time it right. It is best to take melatonin supplements two hours before bedtime. If you’re using melatonin to help prevent jet lag, start taking it a few days before you leave for your trip. Time it so that you take the supplement two hours before whatever your new time-zone bedtime will be.
  • Watch for side effects. While generally safe, the side effects of melatonin may include headache, nausea, and dizziness. Because it can also cause drowsiness, you should wait five hours after taking the supplement before driving or operating machinery.

Boost Your Odds of Success
Melatonin isn’t a cure-all for sleep. In order to get a good night’s sleep, you still need to follow healthy sleep habits, such as avoiding your phone and other tech devices in the hour before bed and winding down in the evening with a relaxing activity or bedtime ritual.

It’s also important to note that while melatonin may help treat occasional insomnia, it’s unclear whether it’s safe to use long-term. If you find yourself relying on the supplement nightly, talk with your doctor to create a better treatment approach to quality sleep.