Falling asleep can be difficult for people suffering from anxiety, taking certain medications--such as beta-blockers--or experiencing other health issues. While there’s medication to treat sleep problems, melatonin might be a better option for some people.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain and in the retinas of our eyes. It is triggered by darkness, with production beginning around 9 p.m. and peaking between 2 and 4 a.m. Then it begins to recede. Melatonin is involved in regulating the sleep and wake cycles and is sometimes used in a synthetic form to treat sleep problems. However, melatonin is not a sleep initiator; it simply tells your brain when it is time to sleep, but does not increase sleep drive. This is why melatonin is particularly effective at treating circadian rhythm disorders – when people sleep the right amount of minutes, but not at the correct time – but may not be as effective in treating insomnia, according to Psychology Today.
The correct dosage for melatonin is between 0.3 and 1.0 mg, and is sold as a dietary supplement in the U.S. With supplements, there are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards or regulations, as there are with prescription medications. In addition, melatonin should be used only for less than three months.
Has it been proven to help people sleep?
People who are given beta-blockers for the treatment of cardiovascular conditions, hypertension and anxiety can experience sleep problems from the medication. One recent study looked at how the use of melatonin supplements could improve sleep in patients taking beta-blockers for hypertension, and found that sleep time increased and perceived quality of sleep improved.
Sixteen people participated in the three-week study, and made two visits to the lab. Each visit lasted four days, as the patients were given either melatonin or a placebo, and then observed while they slept. Researchers found that people who took the melatonin increased sleep time by 37 minutes in comparison to those who took a placebo. They also determined that participants had an 8 percent boost in how soundly they slept.
Another study looked at melatonin to understand how receptors in the brain promote deep, restorative sleep, with the goal of developing a drug to activate this receptor. The drug, called UCM765, increased the phases of deep sleep in rats and mice, and affects the part of the brain responsible for deep sleep.
Researchers say it could be a better treatment for insomnia than traditional medication, because it increases the duration of sleep without changing REM sleep.
Melatonin has also been shown to re-establish the biological clock in blind people. Because melatonin is activated by darkness around 9 p.m., blind people cannot make use of the visual information to start production. Scientists found that having blind people take a melatonin supplement every 24 hours syncs up their sleep-wake cycle on a 24-hour period.