Melatonin Sleep Aid–Is It Real Science Or Just Hype?
With insomnia increasing in our modern society, many people have turned to a melatonin sleep aid in their search for the perfect night’s sleep. Prescription and over the counter sleep aids can be effective, but come with side effects ranging from next day drowsiness to sleepwalking. They can also be addictive. People are beginning to choose natural, homeopathic, and herbal sleep remedies. One of the most popular of these, alongside valerian root, is a melatonin sleep aid.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced by the pineal gland of the human brain. It’s produced in higher quantities at nighttime, as a natural response to darkness and to the natural circadian rhythms of the human sleep cycle. It is found in large amounts in younger people, but decreases with age.
Melatonin is currently available in the United States as a dietary supplement and is not regulated by the Food And Drug Administration. It is also freely available in most European countries and in Asia.
Along with valerian, melatonin has been shown to be an effective treatment for occasional mild to moderate insomnia. The only side effects to be reported from taking a melatonin sleep aid are increases in vivid dreaming, most likely caused by the effect that this sleep hormone has on natural REM (rapid eye movement) cycles. Melatonin’s safety has not been determined for treatments longer than 90 days. No risk of dependency or addiction has been found.
With every day that passes, more information is coming to light on the dangers of insomnia. Not getting a good night’s sleep throws off the bodies natural circadian rhythms. This can lead to a plethora of complications that can range from unpleasant, to down right dangerous.
Effects Of Insomnia
- Weight gain
- Trouble concentrating
- High blood pressure
- Increased risks of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Melatonin Health Benefits
Apart from the natural health benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, a melatonin sleep aid can provide many health benefits in and of itself. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants protect healthy cells against the damaging affects of free radicals in the body. These free radicals are always present. One very important thing about melatonin is that it is one of the few antioxidants that will cross the blood brain barrier.
When you take into account that melatonin crosses the blood brain barrier, it becomes easy to understand the reported neuroprotective properties of this essential hormone.
As humans age, the amount of melatonin produced by the pineal gland naturally declines. Anybody that has ever heard the term “sleep like a baby” may be indirectly aware of this.
Apart from the lifestyle and health benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, melatonin has been shown to protect the brain. Melatonin levels are very low in patients that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly half of all Alzheimer’s patients suffer from insomnia. It is suspected that melatonin protects the brain from the damaging effects of the toxic protein beta-amyloid. Melatonin has also shown to be beneficial to patient’s suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and may reduce brain damage in stroke patients.
A melatonin sleep aid has also been shown to be beneficial for those who suffer from the scourge of migraine headaches. In a study conducted on a group of 29 women and 5 men, patients were given 3 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime. The results were dramatic. After 3 months, the study participants reported a 50% decrease in the frequency of migraines. A reduction in the severity of migraines was also reported. Some researchers credit the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of melatonin for these benefits.
Patients with metastatic breast cancer who were not responding to chemotherapy were given a daily dose of melatonin (20 mg). 25% of these women then began to respond to the chemotherapy treatment. Sleeplessness, and anxiety in general were also reduced by a significant margin. The research suggests that melatonin may help fight hormone-responsive breast cancers by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme, which is responsible for localized estrogen synthesis.
Melatonin has also showed promise in the treatment of prostate cancer. An in vitro study was conducted in which the malignant cells were treated with melatonin. A significant decrease was shown in the number of prostate cancer cells.
Researchers conducted a review of 10 randomized, placebo controlled studies involving people taking a melatonin sleep aid and found that melatonin reduced the risk of death after one year by 34%. These beneficial effects were present no matter what dose of melatonin was being taken. Though more research is needed, these results are very promising. Melatonin has also been shown to reduce toxicity in chemotherapy patients.
The most common melatonin dosage is between 3 and 5 mg, taken a half hour before bedtime. Some of the research studies involving melatonin and cancer have utilized doses up to 50 mg.
While no severe melatonin side effects have been reported, it should be noted that melatonin has sedating properties. Caution should be used if you are taking sedative medications such as benzodiazepines, or if you are taking an over the counter or prescription sleep aid.
Whether you are considering a melatonin sleep aid, or are just interested in the neuroprotective effects of melatonin, the science is very compelling. For the person that suffers from migraines or is worried about cancer prevention, melatonin may be an option to consider. So is it science or hype? I can’t answer this question for you. Everyone must draw his or her own conclusions, but I must say that I am very encouraged by the research on melatonin.