Sleep problems affect a large number of people. A primary sleep problem is one that does not arise as the result of other issues, such as medication side effect, drug use, alcohol use, anxiety, or depression. However, people with primary sleep issues are at risk for psychological comorbidities because of the negative effects of impaired sleep. Individuals need sleep to restore their physical and emotional states. Sleep impairment and disturbed sleep can result in less than optimal daytime functioning, physical illness, mood issues, and even put people at risk for traffic accidents and other dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations. Thus, sleep impairment is a major public concern.
Several treatments are available for sleep impairment, including cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques and sleep medications. The former have been shown to improve sleep patterns to some degree, but medication has proven most effective. Unfortunately, medication can lead to intolerance, side effects, and addiction. Melatonin, however, a natural hormone that is also used as a homeopathic alternative to sleep medication, does not appear to have these same outcomes and has been shown in limited research to help people overcome sleep disturbances.
Eduardo Ferracioli-Oda of the University of Sao Paulo Medical School in Brazil wanted to extend the small body of research on melatonin by analyzing existing data on sleep studies assessing the efficacy of the hormone. For his study, Ferracioli-Oda evaluated 19 studies with data from over 1,683 participants.
The analysis revealed that melatonin did improve sleep onset by approximately seven minutes and extended sleep duration by just over eight minutes for the majority of participants. Although these improvements were not as dramatic as those achieved with sleep medications, the fact that melatonin demonstrated consistent effectiveness is promising, as it is not addictive.
“This stands in contrast to other commonly used hypnotics such as benzodiazepines,” added Ferracioli-Oda. Also, unlike sleep medication, participants did not appear to develop a tolerance or resistance to the melatonin over time. In sum, these findings suggest that melatonin should be considered as a viable alternative to sleep medication for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
Ferracioli-Oda, E., Qawasmi, A., Bloch, M.H. (2013). Meta-analysis: Melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63773. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063773
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