As a reader of Fast Facts, I assume that you are familiar with some of the key points detailed in my free book to subscribers: Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia: What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know. Chief among them is that prescription sleeping pill and anti-anxiety drugs should be avoided. Because these drugs act in a powerful manner on brain chemistry, significant changes in brain function can occur leading to poor mental function, depression, and anxiety. These drugs have a long list of side effects and have been shown to lead to a dramatic increase in premature death including increasing the risk of developing cancer by 35%. Nonetheless, about 10% of the adult population is using prescription sleeping pills on a nightly basis.
My selection of this topic this week is in response to a Ph.D. appearing on the Dr. Oz show trying to cast doubt on the use of melatonin. Many of his opinions were unfounded. Yes, it may be an issue if people take nightly dosages of melatonin greater than 5 mg per night causing them to feel a bit sluggish the next day. But, melatonin overall has demonstrated an exceptional side effect and safety profile at recommended dosage levels. And, I strongly disagree with the opinion that melatonin interferes with normal sleep processes. Quite the contrary, research shows that it enhances sleep quality. Furthermore, melatonin (especially when combined with 5-HTP and L-Theanine) can be very effective in the discontinuation of these dangerous sedative-hypnotic drugs. That is the message that should have been given.
One study specifically sought to evaluate the effect of melatonin administration on sleep and the facilitation of the discontinuation prescription sleeping pills in 22 subjects over 65 years of age. Study participants either received 2 months of melatonin (5 mg/day) or placebo and then crossed-over to the other treatment for an additional 2 months. Results showed that melatonin treatment significantly improved sleep quality when compared with both pre-treatment and the placebo treatment. There were additional benefits noted with melatonin treatment noted. Depression and anxiety scores also improved significantly after melatonin administration and 9 out of 14 subjects taking prescription sleep pills were able to discontinue use during melatonin treatment, but not when taking the placebo administration; one discontinued sleeping pills during both melatonin and placebo administration, and only four were unable to discontinue drug use.
The results of this study (and others) indicate melatonin use significantly improves sleep and mood in the elderly and facilitates discontinuation of therapy with conventional hypnotic drugs.
Garzón C, Guerrero JM, Aramburu O, Guzmán T. Effect of melatonin administration on sleep, behavioral disorders and hypnotic drug discontinuation in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2009 Feb;21(1):38-42.