A growing body of evidence suggests that melatonin is a safe and effective supplement for helping people with ADHD fall asleep.

Sleep-related difficulties are common in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), especially those who take stimulant medications.

Researchers have been exploring potential sleep aids for people with ADHD. One promising option is melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland in your brain. It helps regulate your body’s internal clock, which is also called your circadian rhythm.

It’s important to understand how melatonin works and how safe it is, particularly for children with ADHD.

Several studies have found melatonin to be a safe and effective supplement to help people with ADHD fall asleep earlier. However, melatonin is a hormone and can cause side effects in some people.

It’s best to consult a healthcare professional before taking melatonin or any other supplement, especially if you have a preexisting medical condition.

Can melatonin make ADHD worse?

There is no clear evidence to suggest that melatonin supplementation can make ADHD symptoms worse.

Some research suggests that melatonin might worsen reactive aggression in healthy male adults, though this doesn’t necessarily translate to ADHD.

As with any medication or supplement, individual responses can vary, and it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and monitoring.

The typical melatonin dosage for adults with ADHD is generally the same as for adults without ADHD. The recommended starting dose is typically 1–3 milligrams, taken 1–2 hours before bedtime.

Still, the optimal dosage for you may depend on your specific ADHD-related sleep difficulties.

Melatonin has shown promise in improving sleep difficulties in children with ADHD who are taking methylphenidate (Ritalin), and it’s commonly used in clinical practice for this purpose.

One common side effect of methylphenidate is disrupted sleep patterns, including difficulties falling asleep and waking up, as well as daytime sleepiness. While these effects are usually temporary, they can persist in some children, which can lead to stopping an otherwise effective treatment for ADHD symptoms.

Observational studies have shown that melatonin can be effective in reducing sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and overall sleep disturbances in children with ADHD who are taking methylphenidate.

In a small 2019 study of 74 children with ADHD who were taking methylphenidate, researchers found that melatonin was effective in improving sleep problems in 60.8% of the participants. The effectiveness was similar in males and females, as well as in children and adolescents.

Still, every person with ADHD is different. It’s important to discuss melatonin with your child’s primary care doctor before trying it.

Potential side effects of melatonin in children

Possible melatonin supplement side effects reported in children include:

  • drowsiness
  • agitation
  • bedwetting or increased urination in the evening
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • depression

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that since melatonin is a hormone, using melatonin supplements may potentially affect aspects of hormonal development such as puberty, menstruation, and the production of prolactin (the hormone responsible for breast development and lactation). But the evidence is still unclear.

The relationship between ADHD and melatonin production is complex and not fully understood. Various studies have reported differences in melatonin secretion patterns, delayed onset of melatonin release, or abnormalities in the circadian rhythm in individuals with ADHD.

Research suggests that up to 75% of adults who have had ADHD since childhood experience a delay in their circadian rhythm phase.

This means that, compared to people without ADHD, those with ADHD have important biological markers that occur later in the night (about 1.5 hours later), including:

  • the release of melatonin in response to dim light
  • changes in core body temperature
  • sleep-related movements

In a 2009 study that included 182 adults with ADHD and 117 adults without ADHD, researchers found that those with ADHD went to bed later and were more likely to take longer than an hour to fall asleep. Those with ADHD were also more likely to experience daytime sleepiness.

Researchers have evaluated the following sleep aids for ADHD:

The combination of melatonin and bright light therapy may be particularly effective in advancing the internal circadian rhythm. This means your body would start preparing for sleep and waking up earlier than before the treatment.

In a 2021 study involving 51 adults with ADHD and delayed sleep phase syndrome, internal circadian rhythm advanced by about 1 hour 28 minutes in those who received melatonin alone and about 1 hour 58 minutes in those who received melatonin plus bright light therapy.

The melatonin group also reported a 14% reduction in ADHD symptoms, but these improvements did not continue 2 weeks after treatment.

A growing body of evidence suggests that melatonin is a safe and effective supplement for improving sleep difficulties in adults and children with ADHD. The hormone is believed to help regulate the internal circadian rhythm, promoting a natural and earlier onset of sleep.

If you have ADHD and find falling asleep challenging, you may want to talk with a healthcare professional about taking melatonin.