Wasting precious hours of sleep by tossing and turning is not ideal. For many people, taking melatonin supplements for sleep is growing more popular.
Melatonin supplements are widely available in a variety of forms today. These include gummies, tablets, diffusers, oral sprays, nasal sprays, and more.
Not all of them work at the same time. Here's how your body absorbs melatonin differently.
(There’s a reason why Ascent Labs uses melatonin sprays- more on that later.)
Naturally-produced melatonin vs. melatonin supplements
Melatonin is originally a naturally produced hormone in your body, secreted in your brain’s pineal gland. In the absence of light exposure, melatonin is produced and then distributed in your bloodstream. It travels to distant organs and parts of your body, onsetting your sleep cycle and preparing your body to transition into sleep.
This process happens more directly without much delay. Supplemental melatonin, however, has a very different process.
How long does it take for (oral) melatonin supplements to work?
Unlike naturally-produced melatonin, melatonin supplements take longer to take effect. Oral melatonin supplements like gummies must be digested first; it enters the digestive system, which slows down melatonin's absorption.
Oral melatonin's effects usually peak after one hour. For some people, it can take even longer.
Why does it take so long?
The main system slowing down oral supplements from working quickly is the liver.
One of the liver’s many functions is to remove substances you ingest from circulating in your bloodstream. These substances are degraded (metabolized) and then excreted. This is known as first-pass metabolism, or the first pass effect. What remains is what your body absorbs and uses.
This applies to melatonin supplements that you ingest orally. Because it gets metabolized by the first pass effect, not only does most of the melatonin you take get degraded, but it also delays the actual absorption of oral melatonin.
Does slower mean melatonin isn't working?
Not necessarily. Once oral melatonin peaks, which is in about an hour or longer on average, that's when it kicks off your body's natural sleep onset processes.
However the delay means that there's more time to disrupt the process.
Blue-light exposure can suppress melatonin production. Using digital screens like your phone at night emits blue light that affects melatonin production in the same way that sunlight does, making it harder to go to sleep.
Experiencing changes to your sleep environment might also disrupt this process. The longer you wait, the more time there is for things to interrupt your natural sleep onset process.
Is there anything that works faster?
If melatonin supplements take too long, it might be worthwhile to try different sleep aids- or try different kinds of melatonin that work more quickly than oral melatonin.
The difference between nasal melatonin and oral melatonin
The main difference is how efficiently your body is able to absorb nasal melatonin versus oral melatonin.
Intranasal application offers a more direct pathway to your brain, bypassing barriers that would delay it from being absorbed or degraded.
Unlike oral melatonin, it isn’t slowed down by your digestive system or metabolized by your liver, 90% of the melatonin administered nasally gets absorbed.
A study comparing methods of absorption found the greatest potential in intranasal absorption (nasally administered melatonin), which was absorbed much more quickly compared to other methods, including oral and transdermal melatonin.
Are there other reasons melatonin is taking too long to work?
Melatonin helps advance sleep onset, but it does not guarantee sleep automatically with use. You should still practice good sleep hygiene to support your body’s ability to sleep better.
Is your sleep environment dark and quiet? Are you using your phone in bed? These things could also be interrupting your sleep.
Having certain health conditions could also interfere with your sleep quality in spite of taking melatonin. Consult our physician to see if melatonin is a suitable sleep aid for your lifestyle.