For approximately 20% of the American population, sleep is fitful, restless or much too short. These problems are collectively known as sleep disorders, with insomnia alone affecting as much as 12% of the adult population. Even children can have difficulties in initiating or maintain sleep. As far back as the Elizabethan age, William Shakespeare knew that sleep was important for mental and bodily health. “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care. The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast”. Enter the use of a supplement called melatonin for sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain in increasing quantities as daylight wanes; it remains high during the night to promote sleep. Melatonin actually produces sleepiness, although the mechanism is unclear. The hypotheses that have been proposed include a decrease in body temperature, a direct effect on the circadian rhythm or a direct action on structures in the brain that promote sleep. Melatonin is available in supplement form and there is some scientific evidence that it can affect the sleep cycle. Melatonin can reduce sleep latency – the ability to get to sleep – in people with sleep disorders, although it is not as effective in pure insomnia. Melatonin can help people with a sleep disorder sleep better once they do get to sleep and can also help with jet lag, although the effect has less to do with sleep and more to do with alleviating the daytime fatigue common in jet lag.
The most commonly reported melatonin side effects include nausea, drowsiness and dizziness. Drowsiness was the most frequently reported of all melatonin side effects at slightly over 20%. None of the melatonin side effects were serious enough to disrupt daily activities. Melatonin can also interact with some medications, such as anticoagulants, diabetes medications, birth control pills and medications that suppress the immune system. Most medical practitioners regard melatonin for sleep as safe for short term use – two to three months – although there are some questions about the safety if it is used for several years.
The recommended dose varies according to the condition for which it is being used. When using melatonin for sleep problems such as jet lag and sleep latency, three to five milligrams is the recommended dose, while a sleep disorder may need as little as .05 milligrams. Since drowsiness is the most common of the melatonin side effects, as a precautionary factor, don’t drive or engage in activities that require a high level of alertness within four hours of taking melatonin.
Melatonin for Sleep in the News!
In recent years, there has been a lot of hype in the media about melatonin and its use as an aid to treat temporary insomnia or jet lag. There has also been some controversy and debate among scientists and physicians as to whether or not melatonin actually helps people sleep. Regardless, melatonin actually counter supplement in most pharmacies and nutrition and health food stores. However, since it is sold as a dietary supplement, the amount of melatonin in each pill as well as the makeup of other ingredients that these melatonin pills might contain, are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.