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Melatonin Make You Feel Groggy? Try This Sleep Supplement Instead

Sleeping woman with a soft back light
Image by Adene Sanchez / iStock
September 20, 2020

Most people need a little help falling asleep every once in a while, and melatonin is a popular salve. But while the sleep aid helps the body and mind wind down at night, by morning it can lead to grogginess and brain fog. Here's a rundown on what causes these side effects and how you can overcome them.

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Why can melatonin lead to grogginess?

Melatonin is a hormone that your brain naturally releases at night in response to the setting sun. This "hormone of darkness1" tells the rest of the body that it's time to start winding down for bed. And while this process probably worked like a charm to regulate our ancestors' sleep-wake cycles, fixtures of modern life (think cellphones, TVs, and bright reading lights) have made our evenings much brighter and our melatonin levels more variable.

That's where melatonin supplements come in: They provide a hit of the hormone for times when you have trouble producing it naturally. "Melatonin does one thing very well, which is to provide a specific signal to the brain that it is time to initiate the sleep process," family medicine physician Robert Rountree, M.D., previously told mbg.

But while it helps us fall asleep, it doesn't necessarily help us stay asleep or improve sleep quality at all. That can be one reason some people report grogginess, headaches, and a hungover feeling in the mornings after taking melatonin. The root cause of their insomnia—be it stress or a poor sleep environment—may have still gotten in the way of restorative rest and therefore caused morning fatigue.

Taking melatonin at the wrong time can also lead to a rough wakeup. Since your body doesn't naturally produce much melatonin during daylight hours, having a lot of it lingering in your system in the morning can lead to side effects. While these side effects aren't serious from a medical perspective (the NIH rules them largely mild), they can still put a damper on the first few hours of your day.

Experts say that taking melatonin two to three hours before bed can help mitigate those morning groggies. But getting this timing just right can be difficult since melatonin is after all designed to make us tired and can send us to bed well before those hours are up.

How to wake up feeling more refreshed.

If you're looking for an alternative sleep supplement that won't mess with your mornings, check out magnesium.*

Some supplemental forms of the mineral magnesium can lead to a gentler wakeup than melatonin, Rountree explains*. That's because, "magnesium helps to calm down the central nervous system (CNS), which helps to prepare the brain to turn off and also to keep it functioning at a calmer level throughout the night,*" he says.

That's why mindbodygreen chose the ingredient as the star player in our first sleep supplement, sleep support+.* The form of magnesium we chose, magnesium glycinate, is highly bioavailable (meaning your body is good at absorbing it) and can be taken right before bedtime. And due to the way it interacts with the CNS, the mineral can help promote more restful nights and more alert mornings.* Unlike melatonin, it is also safe to take every night—though you should talk to your doctor before introducing any supplement to your routine.*

It's no wonder sleep support+ has gotten rave reviews from those who previously reached for other sleep aids: "I am very caffeine- and blue-light-sensitive and used to take melatonin at night but found that it often did not work. mindbodygreen's natural, gentle sleep support+ formula has effectively solved my sleep issues," Amy Shah, M.D., integrative medicine doctor, says of the product. "sleep support+ is my go-to when I need a deep, restful night of sleep."

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The bottom line.

While melatonin helps the body wind down for bed, it doesn't do as much to promote better sleep quality and can cause morning grogginess as a result. If you're looking for an all-around sleep helper, magnesium might be a better option for you.* Just remember: No supplement can undo bad nighttime habits, so make sure you're setting the stage for good sleep before introducing any new product to your routine.

Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.