Should Singaporeans take Melatonin Supplements?
More and more Singaporeans are becoming night owls. The annual Global Sleep Survey in 2021 discovered that almost 3 in 10 Singaporeans sleep less due to the pandemic. Released on 17 March 2021, the study surveyed 1,000 Singaporeans, and found that 28 per cent of them said that they now sleep less each night. Meanwhile, 57 per cent said that the pandemic directly impacted their sleeping patterns. There’s a wealth of remedies to treat sleep deprivation and insomnia. But melatonin is gaining traction for being a natural solution to sleep difficulties. Do melatonin supplements actually give you better sleep? Tropika Club finds out more.
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What is Melatonin?
Some of you may vaguely remember its name from your secondary school biology classes. Melatonin can be found in the eyes, bone marrow, and gut. But it’s mainly produced by the pineal gland, an endocrine gland located in the brain. The pineal gland produces melatonin in response to darkness—which is why you keep hearing things like ‘avoid looking at your phone before you sleep’. Because the light from your phone or computer screens may disrupt your body’s natural melatonin production.
There are man-made, artificial variants of melatonin too. These nutritional supplements are generally chemically similar to the melatonin that our bodies produce.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Though the exact mechanism of how melatonin works aren’t clearly understood. Some theories aim to explain how it helps us fall asleep. As much as it has been defined as the sleep hormone, melatonin isn’t the substance that knocks you out—it simply signals your body to relax.
Melatonin helps manage our circadian rhythms: the body clocks that let us know when to sleep, when to wake up, and when to eat. As it gets dark, melatonin gets into our blood flow, and then binds to receptors in the brain and reduces nerve activity. Also, some research shows that melatonin reduces the levels of dopamine in our body, which helps your body achieve a state of rest.
The Effectiveness of Melatonin Supplements
The science isn’t that clear yet when it comes to the effectiveness of melatonin supplements. That said, there is a body of research that suggests that melatonin can help cure the effects of jet lag. With your sleep patterns disrupted, you may experience impaired functioning and digestive problems. With melatonin, it helps ‘resets’ your body as you cross multiple time zones, so you can get used to the time of day in your destination. And you don’t even need to have a high dose of melatonin—a small dose of 0.5mg is as effective at reducing jet lag as a 5mg dose.
Melatonin is also prescribed to people diagnosed with Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD), where they have difficulty falling asleep from before 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. In one review, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences stated that it found melatonin, in a daily dose of 10mg or less, is safe for adults. However, it cautioned the use of melatonin to treat DSWPD for children, adolescents, and women of reproductive age. Higher doses of melatonin in healthy adults caused health risks and safety concerns. That includes headaches, hypotension, hypertension, gastrointestinal upset, and worsening of alopecia areata. It also associated melatonin with an increase in depressive symptoms for some patients.
Should You use Melatonin for Insomnia?
Some subject matter experts point to melatonin’s effectiveness in treating insomnia for the short term. But melatonin only showed improvements to a limited extent for long-term uses.
Practice guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2017) and the American College of Physicians (2016) indicated a lack of evidence on the effectiveness or safety of melatonin supplementation for chronic insomnia to recommend its use. Meanwhile, the American College of Physicians guidelines recommends cognitive-behavioural therapy for the effective treatment of insomnia, instead of melatonin, as an initial treatment for insomnia.
Can Melatonin Work for Night Shifts?
The science is pretty murky here too. Two research reviews pointed to only small or inconclusive results for studies dissecting the effectiveness of melatonin supplements for shift workers. One review analysed 7 studies, with a total of 263 study participants. The review found that some participants may sleep around 24 minutes longer in the day, but the time needed to fall asleep may not change. However, the review considered the results to be of low quality.
Another review analysed 8 studies, where 5 of them were in the previous review. With 300 participants, this review discovered that while six of the studies it analysed had high-quality results, the results were inconclusive. And, it did not recommend the use of melatonin for shift workers.
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