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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Melatonin for insomnia

Few things are more frustrating than lying in bed for hours and not being able to sleep. Except maybe waking an hour before your alarm goes off and staring at the ceiling with no hope of getting more rest.

Having insomnia is not just an unpleasant experience. It can result in serious health problems, like depression, breathing abnormalities, and heart disease.

How it works
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland located at the base of your brain. It regulates your body clock's natural wake-sleep cycle, which is known as circadian rhythm. Your body produces low amounts of this hormone during the day while you're exposed to bright light, and more at the end of the day as it gets darker. The higher amounts at night prepare your body to fall asleep.

Because it plays a pivotal role in the natural sleep cycle, researchers think melatonin may help people with sleep problems, particularly older adults. It's believed that melatonin levels tend to drop as you get older, although some recent research has not supported this. By using supplements to increase your body's natural supply, you may get a better night's sleep.

Supported by research
An Israeli study showed melatonin replacement therapy may improve sleep quality for some insomnia patients. In the five-week study, 372 insomniacs over age 55 were treated for two weeks with a placebo and for three weeks with 2 milligrams per night of melatonin.

Researchers looked at how much melatonin participants excreted. They found that 30 percent, or 112 patients, expelled lower than normal levels of the hormone. These 112 patients also benefited significantly from the replacement therapy as compared with participants who excreted higher amounts of melatonin.

Researchers concluded that a low nightly production of melatonin was associated with insomnia in older adults. They also believe this low melatonin production could help identify people who might benefit from melatonin replacement therapy.

Consider these problems
If you're considering taking melatonin to help you sleep at night, consult your doctor first. If you have asthma, he may advise against it. Research has shown melatonin may promote inflammation. Many asthmatics find their problems increase at night, and it's possible melatonin may be a contributing factor.

Melatonin is generally safe for short-term use, but be aware of these other possible problems.

• Drowsiness, impaired mental alertness, and loss of balance are common, so don't drive or operate heavy machinery for several hours after use.

• It may affect testosterone levels and impair sperm function in men.

• High doses can prevent ovulation in women.

• It may weaken insulin action in diabetics.

• You shouldn't take it if you use tranquilizers, sedatives, antidepressants, or if you have lupus, a hormonal imbalance, autoimmune disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Be a smart consumer
You can buy several different kinds of melatonin pills. The fast-release kind will get into your bloodstream quicker, and the slow-release pills will keep the hormone at a more even level throughout the night. One kind may help you sleep better than the others, so you may want to experiment.

You can increase your melatonin naturally by changing what you eat, experts say. Start eating more whole grains, legumes, nuts, milk, meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. These foods don't contain melatonin, but they contain the amino acid tryptophan. The body converts tryptophan into serotonin and finally to melatonin. Eating any of these foods about an hour before bedtime may increase your melatonin and help you sleep better.

You can also eat foods that contain melatonin -- like oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, cherries, tomatoes, bananas, and barley.

Other ways to increase your melatonin levels naturally :

• Keep your bedroom very dark.

• Get eight hours of sleep every night.

• Get plenty of sunshine during the day.

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