It's perfectly normal to have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep from time to time which is known as insomnia. However there are times when these sleep problems become more than once in awhile and can linger longer than normal due to a sudden life change or an increased amount of stress. For example, the death of a loved one, a car accident, loss of a job, current life events such as now etc., can interrupt someone's sleep pattern for about a week or two. Anything longer than a week or two becomes a chronic sleep problem.
What is sleep?
Well, there are two types of sleep--
Each night a person will go through five or more sleep cycles that include both of the above mentioned types of sleep no matter their sleep pattern.
What determines when and how long we sleep?
So how do we know when to sleep and for how long-- well, a person has a circadian rhythm or an internal sleep clock that determines a person's sleep pattern. This 24 hour circadian rhythm or internal sleep clock is regulated by light, travel and social factors among various other internal aspects such as body temperature, hormones (melatonin) etc.
How much sleep do I need?
Now, that we know what sleep is, what determines when and for how long we sleep-- we now need to know the amount of sleep a person should get nightly....right? Well, sleep lengths are unique to each individual and lessens as one increases in age. For example, most 1 year old babies needs 14 hours of sleep while an adult may need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Women need more sleep than men and elderly adults sleep less at night and more during the day compared to those younger (Pizzorno, 2016). Even this information isn't a “one way fits all” because some may need more or less sleep than advised above. It's a matter of what makes you feel rested the next morning.
What to do when you can't sleep?
There are numerous therapeutic sleep suggestions, behavior modification suggestions, and/or sleep aides available out there. However, only one will be discussed here and most know this sleep aide as Melatonin. It can be obtained over the counter in pill form with daily doses ranging from 0.5 mg to 5 mg at most local CVS or Walgreens. Sound familiar?
Did you also know that melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced in the pineal gland located in the brain? Did you also know that this hormone helps regulate a person's circadian rhythm or internal sleep clock? How about that this hormone contains anti-oxidants and that it has free radical removing properties?
All questions stated directly above are true aspects about Melatonin.....and you are probably wonder what all that means and why do you need to know this?
It's very important to understand a possible product that you may decide to use, especially one that is ingested. So by knowing that melatonin is naturally made in our bodies, it shouldn't surprise you that most studies show the over-the-counter pill form is well tolerated and has little to no-long or short term adverse effects (Zizhen, 2017). That doesn't mean there are no side effects and it doesn't mean it's regulated but that it's overall safe for children and adults (Pizzorno, 2016).
Next, it's important to understand what it will do, like it helps regulate a person's circadian rhythm or internal sleep clock. So what does that mean?? It basically means that this hormone follows a similar pattern by increasing at night and decreasing during daylight hours. Hence, why it's recommended to take the pill form at least one hour before bedtime or at night so that it can help with the onset of a person's sleep time schedule. Research has shown that melatonin can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increases total actual sleep time especially those experiencing jet lag, insomnia etc (Costello, 2014). However, remember this can vary depending on each person.
Lastly, knowing that melatonin has anti-oxidants along with free radical removing properties is just as important. The reason for why it's important is because “sleep is known as the anti-oxidant time for the brain” and during sleep “free radicals are removed” (Pizzorno, 2016). Another way to look at this is that when you are sleeping it's allowing your brain to clean up and clear out harmful aspects that collected during waking hours. By allowing a person's brain this much needed time it prevents neuronal damage and premature aging which occurs with chronic sleep deprivation.
Now that you know more about sleep in general and about melatonin you can make a sound decision if it's something you may use or not. Ultimately this is not intended to give medical advice, make diagnoses, or hinder you from seeking care from a licensed medical professional. Please talk to your medical doctor for further information especially if you are unsure if melatonin is right for you.
Costello, R. B., Lentino, C. V., Boyd, C. C., O'Connell, M. L., Crawford, C. C., Sprengel, M. L., & Deuster, P. A. (2014). The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutrition journal, 13, 106. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-106
Pizzorno, J. E., Murray, M. T., & Joiner-Bey, H. (2016). The clinician’s handbook of natural medicine (3rd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.
Zizhen X, Fei, C., William A.L., Xiaokun G, Changhong L, Xiaomei M, Yan F, Wei L & Fengchun Y (2017) A review of sleep disorders and melatonin, Neurological Research. Retrieved February 19, 2019 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01616412.2017.1315864
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