Melatonin: Doctor advises how to take supplement for sleep
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The sleep hormone melatonin is naturally produced in the human body. It plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle. The body normally produces enough melatonin, which increases in the evening with darkness. The hormone promotes healthy sleep and helps regulate the circadian rhythm.
Manmade versions of melatonin are increasingly being used as dietary supplements to treat sleep problems in the short term.
In the UK, the supplement is available on prescription only and it usually comes as 2mg slow-release tablets.
The supplement could help make falling asleep easier and prevent people from waking up during the night.
Though melatonin is generally safe to use in the short term, reports of people using more than 5mg a day have increased in the past few years, raising safety concerns.
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A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association warned: “The growing use of exogenous melatonin in the general population and its expanding therapeutic potential provide impetus for the acquisition of robust evidence of long-term safety of melatonin supplementation.”
In a previous publication, researchers had found that the actual content of melatonin supplements may be up to 478 percent higher than the content indicated in the label.
This evidence suggests that using melatonin for sleep disturbances might not work.
It also raises questions on whether taking melatonin is actually safe.
Research published in CNS Drugs focused on studying the potential adverse events resulting from short and long-term melatonin treatment for sleep disorders.
The authors looked at case studies taking daily melatonin doses ranging from 0.15mg to 12mg.
Subjects were monitored for short and long periods of up to 29 weeks.
The most frequently reported side effects were daytime sleepiness, headache, dizziness, and hypothermia.
Participants using a melatonin subscription also reported agitation, fatigue, mood swings, nightmares, skin irritation, and palpitation.
The study found that most adverse events linked to melatonin use disappeared spontaneously in a few days.
In other cases, symptoms ceased with treatment withdrawal.
Moreover, melatonin is known to interact badly with blood-thinning medications, diabetes medication, epilepsy medications, contraceptives, and immunosuppressants.
Taking one or two extra doses of melatonin is unlikely to cause harm.
However, they might increase side effects like headaches, nausea, pain in the arm or legs, night sweats, and itchy skin, which might make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
In addition, it’s best to avoid taking melatonin when pregnant and breastfeeding.
The supplement can pass into breast milk in small amounts, affecting the baby’s sleep.
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