Unable to sleep? Try using Melatonin for insomnia.
The agony of insomnia.
As any insomniac will tell you not being able to sleep is a waking nightmare. It impinges on all aspects of your life and recent studies show that it is now thought to even be life-threatening. Research in Italy and Britain show that people who regularly get less than six hours sleep a night are 12% more likely to die earlier than people getting the recommended six to eight hours sleep a night.
Researchers into insomnia report that lack of sleep not only results in low energy levels and an inability to concentrate, which often has repercussions at work, but, as you might expect, it also has an impact on relationships. That there is also a link to deficiency in the immune system, heart disease and depression is now taken as a given.
When to use melatonin.
Most insomniacs will try anything to help themselves sleep and sleeping pills from the doctor are one of the main supports of the chronic insomniac. However, others worry about this use of drugs and the formation of a possible dependency so they look for what they feel are safer alternatives.
Many try herbal supplements containing valerian and hops amongst other ingredients and there is little doubt that these are often enough to help. However, for some people these are not enough so perhaps the answer to their sleeplessness is melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, a tiny but important structure in the brain that governs our circadian rhythms, amongst other things. These are the biological patterns that control the body's sleeping and waking routine over a 24 hour period. Because this system is linked to daylight jetlag and even nightshift working can affect sleep in a detrimental way. Also, as we grow older, we may produce less natural melatonin as the pineal gland can become calcified.
So, taking melatonin as a capsule or time-release pill can certainly boost the levels of this hormone and will often work when everything else has failed. And here I think it is important to make sure that all other natural avenues for avoiding insomnia actually have failed.
It is also a good idea to make sure your bedroom is not too warm, that you go to bed when you are tired but not exhausted and read until your eyes feel heavy etc. etc. We insomniacs tend to know all the usual dodges.
The side effects of melatonin.
As with most compounds, whether natural or synthetic, there are also side effects with melatonin. These are headaches, dizziness, nausea, abdominal cramps, irritability, depression, decreased libido and vivid dreams, which may include nightmares.
People who have hypertension, liver disease and any sort of seizures should probably avoid melatonin altogether. This sounds like a pretty extensive and comprehensive list and may dissuade many insomniacs from using melatonin but I think it is important to point out that all synthetic drugs and remedies, hormonal or herbal, may adversely affect some-one somewhere.
After all even some foods give people indigestion. In many cases the risk though is very slight.
I'm a light sleeper and, because of the menopause, this has been compounded by night sweats, so I could be awake for hours. I seemed to be prone to a wide range of circadian sleep disorders ranging from not being able to get to sleep for ages to getting to sleep easily but waking in the small hours and being unable to return to sleep until it was time to get up. Disturbed sleep patterns tormented me for such a long time that in the end I ignored the side effect warnings of melatonin and went ahead and used it. It changed my life.
I have only ever experienced a couple of side effects and these only occasionally. These were headaches, which woke me twice in the middle of the night and also dreams that I could actually remember, if that can really be called a side effect.They were not bad dreams but they must have been sufficiently vivid for me to recall them when I woke, which is not usual for me.
So, I just reduced my dosage to 1mg of melatonin every other night. It worked perfectly and I am amazed at how different my life is. I had been without proper sleep for so long that the difference a decent amount of deep sleep made to me was a revelation. I felt so refreshed that I wanted to get up and start the day as soon as I awoke.
Would you class yourself as a chronic insomniac?
A final word ...
Makers of melatonin, like any other business, want us to buy ever bigger and better, so you will find melatonin tablets in a wide range of dosages from 1mg to a whopping 10mg. I found that I brought myself back into a good sleep pattern after about three months of 3mg a night, after which I went down to 1mg a night.
When I experienced the headaches I brought it down to 1mg every other night and that stopped the headaches but still gave me the sleep I needed. This seemed to suggest that my melatonin levels had become 'topped up' by the supplementation and that I could ease off. Now I only take melatonin if I feel my sleep has become a bit shallow or is uneven for a night.
As usual, there are many variables. We are all different and so are our sleep problems so really all you can do is to try melatonin yourself and see what it can do for you. Sleep tight!
Update: 30th March 2011.
At recent trials of a new Alzheimers drug containing slow-release melatonin the scientists at CPS Research in Glasgow found that the condition of their test subjects was considerably improved during the day with virtually no side effects. This, they believe, is due to the addition of melatonin and they now hope to establish whether it could be usefully used in conjunction with other drug regimes to improve the lives of all dementia sufferers.
As the West is facing a massive increase in the number of people living with Alzheimers and related dementias (in 10 years Britain alone will have an estimated 1 million sufferers) all research is both valuable and vital. If an easily available hormone such as melatonin is proven to be useful in relieving the symptoms of dementias it could be argued that it may also useful as a preventative for this terrifying disease. So I, for one, will be keeping a close eye on their further developments.