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A Natural Option for Insomnia

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Measures of sleep quality were significantly improved in all participants taking melatonin
If you struggle to get a good night's rest, you’re not alone. Up to one-third of adults report suffering from insomnia, defined as difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, or having non-refreshing sleep. There are natural options for sleeplessness, and the latest research suggests melatonin may be one to try.

Measuring melatonin’s effects

Researchers put together a combined, short- and long-term study in a large group of 18- to 80-year-old adults. For the first three weeks of the study, 791 men and women were randomly selected to receive a 2 mg extended-release melatonin supplement or a placebo pill (no melatonin). Study subjects kept a daily diary to track the previous night’s sleep.

For the rest of the study, the group selected to receive melatonin continued taking the supplement. The group that had received a placebo were then randomly selected to receive either melatonin or a placebo for the next 26 weeks.

The study was blinded, so none of the participants knew if they were receiving melatonin or a placebo at any point. At the end of the study, the researchers analyzed the participants sleep diaries and discovered that:

  • At three weeks, in participants over age 55, melatonin reduced the average time to fall asleep from a little over 15 minutes to a little over 5 minutes.
  • Other measures of sleep quality were significantly improved in all participants at three weeks.
  • Improvements in sleep quality were maintained or enhanced further by the end of the six-month study period.
  • Study subjects did not show signs of tolerance (decreased effectiveness) of melatonin over time.
  • There were no significant differences in side effects between the people taking melatonin and those in the placebo group.
  • The melatonin group did not show signs of withdrawal or rebound (worsened) insomnia when the melatonin supplements were stopped at study completion.

Improving your sack time

Below are tips about melatonin supplements and other insomnia-busting techniques you can use to get your shuteye.

  • Consult a professional. Talk to your doctor before you add any dietary supplements to your self-care plan, especially if you have mental health conditions such as depression.
  • Be informed. Ask your doctor if any medications you take cause insomnia. If they do, find out if other options might be available that won’t.
  • Pick your product. For best effect, try a good-quality, 2 mg, extended-release melatonin supplement, taken two hours prior to bedtime.
  • Go dark. Even tiny amounts of light from a cell phone or alarm clock can suppress the body’s natural melatonin production. Make the bedroom completely dark or invest in soft eyeshades to block out light.
  • Limit caffeine. Avoid caffeinated beverages or food after 2 PM.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it can cause sleeplessness later during the night, worsening overall insomnia.
  • Stay cool. Keep bedroom temperatures cool because a drop in temperature in the evening signals your body that it’s time to sleep.
  • Be consistent. Try to keep consistent sleep and wake up times every day, including weekends. This helps the body regulate sleep more effectively.

(Curr Med Res Opin 2011; 27:87-98)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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