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The secret to buying melatonin in UK shops & online – and everything else you need to know about this must-have sleep supplement

by Laura Palmer

Have you heard of melatonin? If you've ever struggled with insomnia, or jet lag, you might have tried melatonin to help you sleep. Taken a couple of hours before bedtime, melatonin prompts you to drift off and helps reset your bodyclock. Perfect if you're someone who finds it hard to get to sleep. Or you're in a different timezone and want to avoid lying awake all night, and then falling asleep in your scrambled eggs at breakfast (true story). Want to try it? Of course, you do! But annoyingly, you can't buy melatonin in UK shops without a prescription. UNLESS it's topical – more on this later…

With an estimated 22% of the UK living with insomnia or other sleep problems, there's definitely a market for melatonin. And in the US, where you CAN buy it without a prescription, melatonin use has doubled every 5 years since 2012.

So what exactly is this must-have sleep supplement? How does it work? Are there any side effects? And how on earth do you get your hands on it in the UK?

Why can't you buy melatonin in UK pharmacies or shops without a prescription?

Until 1995, you could stock up on as much melatonin in UK health food shops and chemists as you liked. That's because melatonin used to be classed as a 'nutritional supplement' and wasn't subject to the same regulations that medicines are. But the rules were changed to introduce some quality control, because lots of supplements didn't contain as much melatonin as they claimed, or even too much – yikes!

Now that melatonin is classified as a medication, you can only buy the tablets with a prescription from a doctor. But the good news is, you CAN buy melatonin without a prescription in the UK if it's topical. So it's perfectly legal and safe to purchase melatonin patches or creams without getting the OK from your GP first. (Although it's sensible to check whether it's suitable for you. You'll find a helpful list of conditions that melatonin is a big no-no for here.)

What is melatonin:

Melatonin is a natural chemical, that the pineal gland in your brain makes when it starts to get dark outside. Known as 'the sleep hormone, it works by telling your body that it's nighttime and to get ready for sleep. Levels are usually high in the evening, to help you drop off. They then decrease throughout the night, so that by morning you should be feeling more wakeful and alert.

Melatonin also helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, an internal 24-hour clock. Circadian rhythm is disturbed by things like: jet lag, changes in how much daylight there is (remember those long light summer nights, when you couldn't sleep?). Not spending enough time outside in natural light in the day. And getting too much blue or green light in the evenings from screens.

What might be affecting your natural melatonin levels?

Too much late-night screen time is often the main culprit. Especially if you're getting square eyes just before you usually go to sleep – peak melatonin-making time. Using an iPad at full brightness for two hours, for example, can significantly suppress melatonin levels. In an ideal world, try to stop using screens a couple of hours before you want to sleep. And turn off bright overhead lights too.

Make sure you get enough daylight in the morning and afternoon, to help program your body to produce melatonin for sleep at the right time of day. Even a brisk 20-minute morning walk outside, or sitting beside a sunny window during your lunch break can work wonders.

If you can't stop the bedtime box-set binges on your laptop (just one more episode! – we've all been there…), or you often have to work late, you might upset your melatonin production and find it hard to sleep. Don't panic though, this is where supplements can help, by topping up your levels so you get back into a healthy sleep cycle again. But remember, you'll have to opt for a topical supplement. Because as explained earlier, buying melatonin in UK shops that you take orally just isn't a thing anymore.

How do melatonin supplements work and are there any side effects?

Melatonin doesn't actually make you go to sleep, like a sedative would. Instead it's almost like a dimmer switch for your brain and body, which helps to get you sleep-ready. The most common side effects are headaches, dizziness, and stomach cramps. You might also feel sleepy during the day, or get a bit irritable and fed up. All of which should ease off if you stop taking melatonin.

Research into people who used melatonin supplements for 3 months showed that they fell asleep 22 to 34 minutes faster. And their sleep efficiency (the number of hours they stayed soundly asleep without those pesky 4 am wake-ups) was also better.

This research was conducted with oral supplements, and you can't get tablet form melatonin in UK outlets without a prescription. But you can buy topical melatonin, and the good news is it could actually be even more effective and less likely to cause adverse effects.

Is topical melatonin in UK or US-manufactured patches available without a prescription?

Yes! Topical melatonin isn't covered by the same regulations as oral tablets. So you can buy cream or patch form melatonin in UK shops or online. As well as being easier to get your hands on, topical patches are also a more efficient way to get your melatonin. That's because patches deliver the active ingredients through your skin, bypassing your gut and liver, which means much less melatonin is lost.

Plus – unlike some oral supplements and creams, the clever nanotechnology we use in our patches means melatonin is released slowly into your body throughout the night. So you're getting the optimum amount all through the wee hours. No more lying wide awake at 3 am, when the effects of your oral tablet have worn off.

Using a slow-release patch also helps to ensure that you're not giving your body one big dose (like you would with many oral supplements), which is more likely to trigger side effects. No stress, no problems, and lots of sound sleep (fingers crossed!).

Which patches that contain melatonin can I use to help me sleep?

Can't get a decent night's shut-eye? You need the Sleep Starter Plus patch on your bedside table. The gentle, all-natural way to get your sleep cycle back on track, this patch contains the optimum nightly dose of magic melatonin. PLUS natural sleep aids like Valerian root and hops, both clinically proven to have a sedative-like effect and help you get a good night's sleep, so you feel unstoppable the next day.

If your sleep problems started during menopause or perimenopause, help is at hand from the Menopause Night patch. It contains just the right amount of melatonin to help you get sleepy, as well as an expert formulation of phtyo-oestrogens, vitamins, herbs, and minerals. All chosen especially to help you relax and fall asleep quickly, and target menopause symptoms that disrupt sleep.

No more worrying about how you're going to get hold of melatonin in UK shops. Patches are the easy, effective way to boost your melatonin levels and there's no need for a prescription. Get yours here, pop one on before you head to bed, relax, and the patches will help you to drift off into a deep, restorative sleep. Bliss!