A study done in Sheffield, England, shows that critically ill patients get a better night's sleep when given melatonin.
Dr. Richard S. Bourne of Northern General Hospital in Sheffield tested the efficiency of melatonin when compared with a placebo. Those who took the placebo managed 2.5 hours of sleep, while those on melatonin slept for 3.5 hours, only a one hour difference, but other tests revealed that those taking melatonin got a better quality of sleep.
Because of the many causes of sleep deprivation in critically ill patients, other interventions may be required as well.
More good news for those suffering from insomnia is a new sleep medication in Europe. The mediation, called Circadin(R) is a sustained release melatonin that aids sleep by increasing the body's own level of the hormone. This is the first melatonin agent approved by European Medicines Agency and is now available in Europe for treating insomnia.
Circadin(R) was approved as a short-term treatment of insomnia in patents over 55.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin isn't a drug. It's a hormone produced by a pea-sized gland nestled between the two hemispheres of the brain.
This gland is called the pineal gland. The scientific name for melatonin is N-acetyl-5 methoxytryptamine. Researchers became aware of its existence about four decades ago. Melatonin is found in many different species from people to protozoa. Its presence in the lower life forms has lead scientists to believe that it has been a part of life since the beginnings of time.
The pineal glands of young people produce copious amounts of melatonin. However, after the age of forty, production slows down.
This reduction in melatonin production is why younger people have an easier time to fall asleep and to stay asleep than the elderly.
Melatonin in the body controls the circadian rhythm so we sleep at night and stay alert during daylight hours. The amount of light that reaches the eyes controls the amount of melatonin the pineal gland produces. Light slows production of the hormone, so on a bright sunny day, we are often alert and filled with energy.
On a dull, cloudy day when the house is full of dark shadows, we become more lethargic and sleepy. When evening falls and the lights go out, the pineal gland increases its production of melatonin. The hormone flows throughout the body and makes us sleepy. People in the northern areas of the world have to adjust to a different rhythm as some of their nights last for weeks. In polar regions, the animals have larger pineal glands to compensate for the many hours of darkness.
Some foods contain melatonin and eating them before bedtime may be beneficial. Some examples are rolled oats, corn, rice, tomatoes and bananas. However, to get the amount of melatonin that is present in a pill, you would have to eat copious amounts of these foods.