In the 1990s, synthetic melatonin2 first became available in supplement form. Usually, melatonin supplements are available in the form of capsules, tablets, liquids, and gummies; however, you can now also buy melatonin sleep patches.
In this article, we’ll be discussing what exactly melatonin sleep patches are and how they work, who they are a good fit for, how they compare to other forms of melatonin, and how long you should plan on using these patches.
What Are Melatonin Patches?
Melatonin patches are adhesive patches3 that look sort of like a square bandaid. Typically, you’ll apply this patch to an area with limited hair, like your forearm or shoulder, about one hour before bed. Just like melatonin supplements, the patch increases the levels of melatonin in your system, which should help make you feel sleepy.3
In general, these sorts of transdermal patches4 work by delivering a drug (or hormone) through the skin. The benefit of using a patch rather than ingesting something like a pill or gummy is that the patch bypasses the liver as well as the gastrointestinal system, which means that none of the melatonin will be lost through the metabolization process.4
The melatonin patch also has the benefit of being delivered more slowly throughout the night5, rather than all at once at the beginning of the night, which is more common with oral melatonin.
Like oral melatonin supplements, transdermal melatonin patches are considered safe for most people, if dosed correctly and used for a maximum of 13 weeks.6
Melatonin side effects are rare7, but some of the most common include daytime sleepiness, headache, stomach ache, nausea, and vivid dreams or nightmares. That said, because transdermal melatonin patches bypass the digestive tract, side effects like nausea and stomach ache may be omitted.
However, transdermal melatonin patches, like other forms of melatonin supplements, are not FDA-approved. The reason for this is that they are considered dietary supplements8 rather than medicine. The benefit of this is that melatonin is easily accessible for all; but the downside is that without FDA regulation, there is no real way to know if the ingredients in the supplements match the ingredients on the label.
Because of this, it is important to buy only quality melatonin products from reputable brands. Make sure that your melatonin supplement or patch is marked “USP Verified9”, which will ensure that the ingredients and their quantities match those listed on the label.
Do Melatonin Patches Help You Fall Asleep?
Because other types of melatonin supplements are more popular and have been around longer, there are more studies on their efficacy. So, the studies that we do have on melatonin patches are limited, but they do show promise.
For example, one study from 2009 determined that melatonin patches were particularly effective at delivering melatonin during the daytime.3 This would be most beneficial to people like shift workers, who must work through the night and sleep during the day, and those experiencing jet lag during travel. The research team also concluded that melatonin patches may be a good fit for older adults who tend to wake up very early in the morning, due to a low level of melatonin production.3
In general, melatonin is considered to have a positive effect on sleep quality10 overall.
Melatonin Patches vs. Other Forms of Melatonin
As mentioned, melatonin is commonly purchased in the form of capsules, tablets, liquids, or gummies. Below, we’ll compare the benefits of each of these with melatonin patches.
Patches vs. Pills (Capsules and Tablets)
A capsule is a pill11 that is made up of a shell encapsulating either liquid or powder. Capsules can’t be split in half, so whatever dose is inside the capsule is the dose you’ll have to take.
A tablet is also a pill, but it is made up entirely of the medication. These are hard and comprised of compressed powder medication. Tablets are usually easily split in half, so with these, you can tweak your melatonin dosage a bit more precisely.11
Capsules tend to have a higher bioavailability than tablets, meaning more of the melatonin will enter your bloodstream.11
However, because pills must pass through the digestive system, some of the melatonin will be lost in the process, making both of these have a lower bioavailability than patches.11 Patches have the benefit of sidestepping the digestive system and liver entirely, which means more of the melatonin enters your bloodstream, which may be beneficial to those who have a sensitive stomach.4
That said, with a patch, you can’t tweak your dosage. Whatever it says the dosage is on the label is what you’ll be getting; there is no breaking it in half as you might with a tablet.
Patches can release melatonin throughout the night rather than all at once, which might help people stay asleep.5 That said, you can also buy “extended-release” melatonin pills, which will also be released throughout the night. However, it is unclear whether there is a difference between patches and extended-release melatonin pills in terms of helping you sleep through the night.
Patches vs. Liquids
Just like pills, liquid melatonin must move through the gastrointestinal tract and the liver before it takes effect.4 However, liquid is often chosen over pills because it absorbs slightly faster12 than tablets and marginally faster than capsules. Plus, liquids may be easier to take for children.
Liquid melatonin also has the benefit of being more “adjustable” in terms of dose. Let’s say you purchased a bottle that was 1 milligram per dropper-full. If you found after trying it that you actually did better with about 1.5 milligrams, you could adjust to 1.5 drops. Conversely, if you need slightly less, you could take slightly less than one dropper-full.
When using a melatonin patch, you won’t get the ability to customize your dose.
One thing to keep in mind is that liquid melatonin often contains sugar or some sort of sweetener for taste. This may not be an issue for you, but if you’re sensitive to sugar before bed or if you’re avoiding sweeteners, a patch or pill might be a better option.
Patches vs. Gummies
Melatonin gummies are often marketed for both children and adults as they are often sweet and easy to eat. This means that, yes, gummies will contain some sort of sweetener, which may be a drawback for some. They also must pass through the digestive system, which means some of the melatonin will be lost along the way and may cause some people an upset stomach.7
It seems that you can find melatonin gummies that are extended release, though more commonly, the melatonin in gummies will be released all at once. This means they’ll likely help you fall asleep, but may not help you stay asleep. Patches, on the other hand, tend to release melatonin more slowly, which means they may help you stay asleep through the night.5
One 2015 study specifically compared various “alternative” forms of melatonin, including nasal sprays, patches, injections, and under-the-tongue sprays. This study found that nasal and under-the-tongue sprays were both quickly absorbed and highly bioavailable, whereas patches were more slowly absorbed. The injections were found to be quickly absorbed, but not any more effective than traditional, oral melatonin.5
Who Should Use Melatonin Patches?
- Those uncomfortable swallowing pills – If you’re uncomfortable or unable to swallow capsules or tablets, you might benefit from a melatonin patch.
- Those with sensitive stomachs – If you’ve tried oral melatonin before and found that it has given you an upset stomach, you might try a melatonin patch. Since it bypasses the digestive system, going directly into the skin, it may help alleviate this side effect.
- Shift workers – Melatonin patches seem to be especially effective at delivering melatonin during the day, which could make them a good fit for shift workers.3
- Those with jet lag – Melatonin patches also seem to be especially effective for those with jet lag.3
- Extremely early risers – If you tend to wake up way too early in the morning, melatonin patches may help you stay asleep longer.3
Who Should Use Other Forms of Melatonin?
- Those who want more control over their dosage – Unlike liquids, powders, or tablets, you won’t be able to tweak your dosage with a melatonin patch. Instead, the patch will slowly deliver the amount of melatonin it says on the label. Be sure to check that your melatonin patch is USP-verified so you’ll know that it actually contains what it says on the label.
- Those who have trouble going to sleep – If you’re only struggling to fall asleep rather than stay asleep, you might benefit from an instant-release form of melatonin. Examples include capsules, tablets, liquids, and gummies that are not labeled “extended release.”
- People with sensitive skin – Some people might get contact dermatitis when using various types of transdermal patches13. If this happens to you, the skin irritation should go away upon discontinuation.13
Who Should Avoid Melatonin?
According to the National Health Service (NHS) certain people should avoid melatonin entirely14.
- Those with liver or kidney issues – The NHS advises against taking melatonin if you have liver or kidney issues at this time.14
- People with autoimmune disorders – Autoimmune disorders including lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more, could be made worse by supplemental melatonin as it may stimulate inflammation in some people.14
- Anyone who has a melatonin allergy – If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to melatonin, you should avoid taking this supplement.14
Always speak to your doctor before adding any supplements to your regimen.
How Long Should I Use Melatonin Patches?
There is no specific information about how long you should use melatonin patches in particular. However, experts recommend that adults use melatonin, in general, for a maximum of 13 weeks.6 Children are advised to use melatonin for up to three weeks.15
Frequently Asked Questions
Do melatonin patches work?
Research suggests that melatonin patches do work, and seem particularly effective at inducing sleepiness during the day, potentially making them beneficial for shift workers and those with jet lag.3
The melatonin from patches is released more slowly, which also means they may be a good fit for those who tend to wake throughout the night or wake up extremely early in the morning.3
What is the best place to put a melatonin patch on your body?
Your particular melatonin patch may come with placement instructions, depending on its size and shape. If it doesn’t, it is generally recommended that you place any transdermal patch on an area with limited hair. The wrist, forearm, and shoulder are good examples.
Are melatonin patches safe?
Melatonin is generally considered safe for use up to 13 weeks, with limited side effects.6, 7 This applies to melatonin patches, as well as oral melatonin supplements.
If you have an autoimmune disorder, issues with your liver or kidneys, or have ever had an allergic reaction to melatonin, you should avoid supplemental melatonin entirely.14
However, you should always consult your healthcare provider before taking any melatonin or sleep supplements.
Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.
- Arendt PhD, Josephine., Aulinas MD PhD, Anna. “Physiology of the Pineal Gland and Melatonin”. Endotext. Last modified October 30, 2022.
- Cox, Lauren. “What Is Melatonin?”. LiveScience. 2013.
- Aeschbach, D., et al. “Use of transdermal melatonin delivery to improve sleep maintenance during daytime”. National Library of Medicine. 2009.
- Khan, Samara., Sharman, Tariq. “Transdermal Medications”. StatPearls. Last modified February 6, 2023.
- Zetner, D., Andersen, L.P.H., Rosenberg, J. “Pharmacokinetics of Alternative Administration Routes of Melatonin: A Systematic Review”. National Library of Medicine. 2015.
- “How and when to take melatonin”. National Health Service. Last modified February 13, 2023.
- “Side effects of melatonin”. National Health Service. Last modified February 13, 2023.
- “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know”. National Institutes of Health. Last modified January 4, 2023.
- “USP Verified Mark”. USP.org. Webpage accessed January 8, 2024.
- Fatemeh, Gholami., et al. “Effect of melatonin supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”. National Library of Medicine. 2022.
- Orrange MD, Sharon. “Capsule or Tablet? Pros, Cons, and Prices Explained”. GoodRx Health. Last modified February 23, 2022.
- Jones, Erin., et. al. “No, liquid medication is not more effective than capsules”. WCNC Charlotte. 2023.
- Paolo, Romita., et al. “Contact dermatitis due to transdermal therapeutic systems: a clinical update”. National Library of Medicine. 2019.
- “Who can and cannot take melatonin”. National Health Service. Last modified February 13, 2023.
- “Do’s and Don’ts of Giving Melatonin to Kids”. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Last modified April 5, 2021.