Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ranking the best melatonin supplements of 2016

Wouldn’t it be great if you could easily slip into a deep, restful sleep when you go to bed?

Melatonin is a supplement that promises just that: an easy, natural, safe, and effective way to improve your sleep length and sleep quality.

Here are the best melatonin supplements on the market, ranked.  Afterwards, we’ll dive into the details of how melatonin works and what it can do for you.

1.  Nature Made Melatonin

melatoninChalk this one up as simple and straightforward.  With Nature Made being a well-known brand, you know you’re not going to get anything fancy, but in this case, simple might be exactly what you’re looking for.

The Nature Made Melatonin offering supplies a moderate 3 mg of melatonin per tablet.  Given how cost effective this supplement is, if you need a higher dosage, you might as well just take two instead of look for a supplement with a higher per-tablet dose.

The melatonin is bound up in dibasic calcium phosphate, sodium starch glyocolate, and magnesium stearate; all of these are fairly common tablet constituents.

Quality is where this supplement really shines through.  Lab testing determined that each tablet contains within 4% of its label-listed amount of melatonin, and it contains no contaminants or adulterants.

In terms of cost-effectiveness, it’s hard to beat.  Each tablet is only a couple of cents—a small price to pay for the ability to fall asleep more readily when you really need it.

2.  Just Potent Melatonin

Just Potent Melatonin contains a moderate dose of melatonin, at 5 mg per tablet, but its real selling point is its vitamin B6 content and its precision.  The decision to include vitamin B6 is an interesting one; though not popular, a few supplement makers do decide to include it.

The reasoning for this, according to the marketing literature, has to do with vitamin B6’s role in promoting strong brain function.  Because the brain refreshes itself, stores memories, and performs other important functions while you’re asleep, the thinking is that providing B6 before bed will help the sleep you get be more restful and effective, leaving you more alert the next morning.

Thus far, no independent scientific studies have investigated using melatonin alongside vitamin B6 for improving cognition and alertness the next day, but it’s an interesting prospect for future research.

The other draw of Just Potent Melatonin is that its label-advertised amount of melatonin is within 1% of its actual lab-determined amount.  This kind of quality and purity is rare, and earns Just Potent a spot high up on the rankings.

3.  Puritan’s Pride Premium Super Strength Melatonin

This melatonin supplement is high powered and minimalist.  Each capsule delivers a hefty 10 mg of melatonin per capsule, so if lower doses of melatonin aren’t working for you, Puritan’s Pride might be just what it takes.

The supplement comes in a gelatin and vegetable cellulose capsule, so if you’re opposed to animal products, you might need to look elsewhere.

In terms of purity as assessed by independent lab testing, Puritan’s Pride Premium does well, but not outstanding.  Each capsule actually contains more like 11 mg of melatonin.

While this means you’re getting 10% extra, it also means that your dose is 10% higher than it ought to be.  Again, because these measurements are so small, it can be tricky and expensive to get them right.

Though the cost per capsule is higher than average, keep in mind that the melatonin content per capsule is also higher than many of its competitors, to the tune of 200 to 300%.

If you know that high doses of melatonin are what you need when you can’t fall asleep, it might be easier to opt for a high dosage supplement like Puritan’s Pride instead of taking several lower capacity melatonin supplements at once.

4.  Nature’s Bounty Triple Strength Melatonin

This is a brand you’re likely to find at your local pharmacy or drug store.  The triple strength formulation doesn’t actually contain a tremendously high amount of melatonin—each softgel actually contains only 5 mg of melatonin, which is indeed stronger than a regular supplement, but not by a factor of three.

The softgel formulation does mean there are a few more ingredients than usual.  The gel capsule and the liquid it contains are made up of soybean oil, gelatin, glycerin, beeswax, soy lecithin, and titanium dioxide.

This doesn’t mean much for most people, but if you can’t eat soy, or if you are vegetarian or vegan, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Being a softgel does mean that this product is likely to dissolve and get absorbed more quickly, so the onset of sleepiness should be more rapid and sudden than with other products. This could be  a good or a bad thing depending on what you’re looking for.

Purity-wise, Nature’s Bounty Triple Strength Melatonin is middle of the road.  Analytical testing shows that each softgel contains about 16% more melatonin than advertised, which is fairly typical.

If you want a medium dose of melatonin and want it to take effect rapidly, Nature’s Bounty Triple Strength might be the supplement for you.

5.  Now Foods Melatonin

This melatonin supplement is a solid middle-of-the-road choice for  delivering a reasonable dose of melatonin in a cheap and efficient way.  It provides 5 mg of melatonin per tablet, according to the label, and it’s got no extraneous or gimmicky ingredients.

In terms of the purity and accuracy of the product, Now Foods falls a bit short, as do a number of the other low-cost melatonin supplements.  Independent analytical lab testing concluded that Now Foods Melatonin contains 22% more melatonin than it should.

Not necessarily a bad thing; certainly, it is much better than the alternative (getting less than your money’s worth).  Still, this points to problems with quality control in the manufacturing process.  It is hard, though not impossible to get an accurate dosage measured out for amounts this small.

To some extent, this is one consequence of keeping costs low.  A more accurately measured supplement manufacturing process is going to cost more, and when the low-cost supplements are dominating the market, the obvious choice is to go with a manufacturing method that is a little less precise, but saves money.

If precision is important to you, choose a brand that has independently-verified label accuracy.  But if 6.1 mg is as good as five in your book, Now Foods Melatonin is a great choice.

6.  GNC Melatonin

This name-brand melatonin supplement comes in an extra-small dosage (just one milligram of melatonin per serving).  Uniquely, the melatonin is also delivered as an artificially-sweetened, non-caloric lozenge.  Aside from melatonin, the only ingredients are sorbitol, mannitol (both sugar substitutes) and natural flavoring.

In terms of purity, GNC Melatonin performs sub-par—lab testing reveals that each lozenge actually only contains 0.89 milligrams of melatonin, so the true dosage is even lower than what you’re paying for.

Considering this, GNC Melatonin is best-reserved for people who really don’t need much melatonin at all to fall asleep.  If the usual 3 mg supplements knock you out cold and leave you feeling woozy the next day, GNC melatonin might be worth a try.

7.  Best Naturals Melatonin

Best Naturals Melatonin is a high-dose melatonin supplement, delivering 10 mg per tablet.  The other ingredients are unremarkable, just your usual mixture of tablet binders and stabilizers.

The real surprise comes when you look at the lab-verified melatonin amount: Best Naturals actually contains 25% more melatonin than advertised—instead of the label-claimed 10 mg, each tablet contains 12.5 mg of melatonin.

That’s more than four times as much as a standard melatonin supplement.  Since you don’t want to over-do it with melatonin, you should probably choose a different product, unless you know you’ll need a very high dosage of melatonin to fall asleep and want to get your money’s worth.

8.  Natrol Melatonin Time Release

Natrol is a market-dominating melatonin supplement whose purple bottle is hard to miss.  It’s on shelves at pharmacies and drug stores everywhere, and it’s the number one best selling sleep aid supplement on

Each tablet of Natrol Melatonin provides 5 mg of melatonin, along with 10 mg of vitamin B6 and a few stabilizing compounds in the tablet, like cellulose and stearic acid.  Aside from this, it’s a pretty simplistic supplement.

The physical properties of the tablet determine the rate of release; there is no special “slow absorption” form of melatonin.  A time release tablet will disintegrate more slowly in your stomach, while a fast-acting tablet will come apart more rapidly.

Unfortunately, independent lab testing finds that the label accuracy of Natrol Melatonin Time Release is questionable.  Analytical testing found that each tablet contains, on average, 7.4 mg of melatonin—quite the difference compared to 5 mg.

Part of this problem might be the technical difficulties of accurately measuring such a small amount on a consistent basis, but other brands seem to accomplish it.  For melatonin, as with many other supplements, more is not always better.  Ideally, you’d like the smallest dose that’s going to accomplish what you need, and an inaccurate label is not helping with that task.

9.  Vitafusion SleepWell Melatonin

It’s a top seller online, and it takes a different approach than many of its competing melatonin supplements.  What makes Vitafusion SleepWell Melatonin so popular? First off is its overall approach—it’s not a tablet or a capsule, it’s a gummy.

The gummies provide 1.5 mg of melatonin each, and are flavored with sugar alcohols and the herbal extracts passion flower, chamomile flower, and lemon balm leaf.

Though these are listed on the supplement facts panel, they’re really more of flavoring agents than anything else—these same ingredients are common in bed-time herbal tea formulations, as they have a pleasing aromatic flavor without imparting any caffeine like a traditional tea.

In terms of quality, Vitafusion SleepWell does not score tremendously well.  Its actual content of melatonin per gummy is 25% lower than its label-stated amount—so only slightly over one milligram of melatonin is actually in each gummy chew.  This pushes its cost per melatonin serving higher.

On the bright side, chews like this could be a good choice if you can’t or don’t like to swallow pills.  Though most melatonin tablets are fairly small and unobtrusive, some people still have trouble getting them down.

One final downside to Vitafusion—the gummies are made in a factory that also processes a number of allergens, so they are not guaranteed to be free from cross-contamination.  If you’re allergic to egg, shellfish, nuts, fish, or soy, you should look elsewhere.

10.  Now Foods Liquid Melatonin

Though Now Foods also makes a standard tablet based melatonin supplement, it also offers a liquid version of the same supplement, which is an interesting take on the concept.

The small amber vial contains an integrated eye dropper to aid measurement—conveniently, a serving is one full eyedropper’s worth of liquid.  Each serving contains 3 mg of melatonin dissolved in water, glycerin, and ethyl alcohol, along with some flavoring and sweetening agents: fructose, orange extract, vanilla flavor, lemon oil, and a few natural preservatives.

In terms of analytical accuracy, Now Foods’ liquid melatonin solution is a bit off its label-stated amount, but in the direction of excess.  Independent lab testing found that each serving actually contained more like 3.5 mg of melatonin.

More problematic, however, is the difficulty of getting precise measurements when you are doling out the servings yourself.  With tablets, precision measurement isn’t necessary—the manufacturer does that for you.

With this supplement, though, you’re relying on the accuracy of the eyedropper, which is not going to be as consistent from serving to serving as an industrially-measured tablet.

For most people, a tablet or capsule will be the best choice.  A liquid supplement version of melatonin might be a good call if you dislike or have difficulty swallowing pills—for just about anybody else, the extra cost, lessened dosage accuracy, and inconvenience aren’t worth it.

Part 2: What is melatonin and how can it aid your ability to sleep better and wake up rested?

Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that your body uses to regulate its sleeping and waking cycles.  When taken at the right time in supplement form, you can induce sleepiness and improve the quality of your sleep.

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, especially as a result of getting older, you might want to consider taking a melatonin supplement

Benefits of melatonin supplements

Expounding on the ways in which melatonin can aid your sleep takes some scientific research to explain exactly how the biology of melatonin works and in what ways external (i.e. supplemental) melatonin can change this.

In a human in a “state of nature”—no artificial lights or rapid international travel—melatonin is reliably and consistently produced at the onset of darkness.  As a result, your blood melatonin levels go up when it gets dark out, and you become sleepy (1).

Of course, things aren’t this simple with modern humans.  We stay up late with artificial lights, and we often travel through many time zones, which can disrupt our body’s internal sleep and wake cycles.

Melatonin production also decreases as you age; some researchers hypothesize that this is why many elderly people suffer from insomnia (2).  In all of these cases, modulating melatonin levels in your body via external intake from a supplement at the appropriate time of day is one way to correct this.

For age-related insomnia, a 2001 study investigated whether melatonin supplementation can help.  A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined sleep quality in fifteen subjects over 50 years old who had insomnia and poor sleep efficiency (3).

The researchers tested three doses of melatonin: 0.1 mg, 0.3 mg, and 3 mg, taken half an hour before bed every day for a week.  The results showed that the best effects came from a fairly low dose: the 0.3 mg dosage improved sleep efficiency, especially in the middle of the night, and restored melatonin levels in the blood to their normal values.

The 3 mg dose also improved sleep efficiency, but it caused blood levels of melatonin to remain elevated during the day, too.  This could have induced grogginess.  The researchers also noted that control subjects who did not have age-related insomnia did not experience any changes in sleep quality, even though  they had low melatonin levels.

It may be that some people’s bodies are able to adapt to lower physiological levels of melatonin and still get quality sleep; in these cases, a melatonin supplement probably is not necessary in these cases.

Melatonin can also help you deal with jet lag, which can strike when you cross numerous time zones while traveling.  Heading eastbound can be especially bad.  A review by A. Herxheimer and K.J. Petrie for the Cochrane Collaboration of systematic reviews looked at evidence from ten studies on melatonin for treating or preventing jet lag (4).

The researchers found that melatonin was “highly effective” at treating and preventing jet lag, as long as you take it close to your target bedtime at your destination of arrival.  The benefit is greater for trips that cross more time zones and for eastbound trips.

Taking the melatonin supplement at the wrong time of day (i.e. not within half an hour or so of bedtime at your location of arrival) can disrupt your sleep schedule, causing drowsiness and worsening your jet lag instead of improving it.

As many readers know, sleep can be disturbed even if you aren’t jet-lagged or reaching old age.  Fortunately, melatonin can improve sleep quality in healthy adults, too.  A 1996 study by M.E.J. Attenburrow, P.J. Cowen, and A.L. Sharpley at Littlemore Hospital in the United Kingdom described an experiment which examined the effects of a dose of melatonin on sleep quality in middle aged volunteers (5).

The authors tested a 1 mg and 0.3 mg dose of melatonin before sleep, then studied the brain waves and eye movements of the subjects during their sleep.  The subjects also underwent similar experiments using a placebo.

In the case of the melatonin, the researchers found that the supplement caused an increase in total sleep time, an increase in non-REM sleep, and “sleep efficiency,” which is a measurement of how “good,” qualitatively speaking, your sleep is.  Highly efficient sleep should leave you feeling alert and rested the following day.

Recommended dosage

Interestingly, melatonin appears to be effective at a wide range of doses.  In the studies discussed above, doses of as little as 0.3 milligrams have been effective at improving sleep quality.

The Cochrane review of studies on melatonin for jet lag noted that doses of 0.5 mg to 5 mg were equally effective in almost every respect.  The only difference was that doses of 5 mg seem to induce sleep more rapidly than doses of 0.5 mg.  Doses above 5 mg do not seem to have any additional benefits.

Slow release doses appear to be more effective for insomnia, while jet lag is just the opposite: it appears that a short but steep increase in blood melatonin levels is all it takes to help reset your biological clock once.   A slow release formula might be more appropriate for people who have issues staying asleep instead of falling asleep.

Side effects of melatonin

One of the real draws of melatonin is its very safe side effects profile.  A large review of numerous studies on melatonin use found that its safety profile for short to medium-term use (a few weeks to a few months) was excellent (6); the only major side effect of note is sleepiness and grogginess when it is taken at the wrong time of day.

Some case reports do caution against using melatonin if you have epilepsy or if you take warfarin or other blood thinners—in these cases, you should definitely talk to your doctor first before taking melatonin (7).


Melatonin, when used correctly, can be a very effective way to improve sleep quality, help with insomnia (especially as you age), and treat or prevent the negative effects of jet lag.

For best results, take melatonin within half an hour of when you go to bed—for travelers, note that this is your intended bedtime at your destination, so 10pm London time if you’re flying from New York to London.  Following these guidelines can help you get to sleep earlier, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling well-rested and refreshed.

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