Tuesday 4 September 2018

Thinking about melatonin?

Sleep has been fairly absent in our past.  Our beautiful kids have a variety of challenges and autism and ADHD are among them.  This has resulted in poor sleep for most of the family for most of the time.  A few years ago, David started on melatonin.  It was not an easy decision to make or an easy prescription to get and in the end didn't work for us.  But if you are thinking about helping you or someone you love get to sleep so they can wake up to a good morning, here's some information on it for you.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Its primary purpose is regulating circadian—or daily—rhythms.  One of those rhythms is the sleep cycle. According to reports in the press, nearly a third of the population are suffering from insomnia which is affecting their health. The survey of the nation’s sleep habits found that 30% are severely sleep deprived, putting them more at risk of mental health and relationship issues.

A lack of sleep may merely seem inconvenient, but it can lead to serious problems.

Problems include:

  •  Depleted energy
  •  Lowered productivity
  •  Irritability
  •  Increased risk of high blood pressure
  •  Increased risk of diabetes
  •  Hindered immune function
  •  Lowered digestion quality
  •  Irregular metabolism
  •  Inconsistent appetite
  •  Fatigued

So how does melatonin relate to your sleep issues? It moderates the natural sleep-wake cycle in your body. Naturally, a person's body's level of melatonin is usually highest at night when the pineal gland is most active. It is triggered by darkness, then your pineal gland picks up its pace and starts generating more melatonin. You feel less alert and sleep becomes more inviting.

Melatonin also has an influence on stress. When your body experiences stress, it releases cortisol. Cortisol heightens awareness and puts your body in overdrive. Sometimes, this is useful, like when it comes to jumping out of the way of a moving vehicle. When it comes to emergency response tasks, cortisol is amazingly useful.

Other times, cortisol is released at inappropriate times, which can cause anxiety. Melatonin counteracts this well-meaning biological response by easing you from that restlessness and calming your mood. If your sleep issues are related to stress, and possibly anxiety, you might want to try other sleep remedies as well, for instance essential oils that help with stress and anxiety. But you might have already passed that station.

So what if you think melatonin may help with falling asleep?

Boosting the messages that boost your melatonin production by cutting down on blue light.  Blue light suggests it is still daytime and your body should be awake but with our lifestyles we naturally continue with light not only after it gets dark but with extra blue light when we work to.  To help boost your natural production you can:

  • Limit the amount of blue light devices you use - especially after it starts to get dark
  • Use night mode on your iPad or iPhone where it's available to filter out some of the blue light
  • Try blue light filter glasses to cut blue light out at work or at home

Diet plays a tremendous role in how your body functions. It should be no surprise that the foods you eat play a role in melatonin levels and in turn quality of sleep. Foods high in the amino acid tryptophan are a good starting point. Here are some examples of foods high in melatonin:

  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Walnuts

If you want to try to give yourself a little boost of melatonin without seeking a prescription then maybe food is a great, low-risk place to start.

Melatonin medication

Another option for raising melatonin levels is to supplement your levels with additional melatonin. If, like our son, you've tried already good sleep diet and practice good sleep hygiene and still don't get to enough sleep or fall asleep when you should, then you can seek a prescription via your GP or Paediatrician.

You'll probably be asked about your lifestyle and to fill in a sleep diary.  If you've been having difficulty falling a sleep for a while then keeping a sleep diary can be helpful and will mean you already have one prepared.  If approved you'll also likely start on a small dose.   Ironically, prolonged use or extensive amounts of this medication can actually increase insomnia. Your brain becomes desensitized to melatonin, making you unresponsive to what is naturally produced as well as any supplements of it in your routine. This is called habituation.

Also keep an eye on what other things you are taking. Like oil and water, some medications just do not mix well together and your GP or Paediatrician may ask if you are taking anticoagulants immunosuppressants, contraceptives or diabetes medications.  If you are an adult in this position it's also worth noting that you should not be mixing alcohol and melatonin because it will reduce the medicine's effectiveness in helping you to sleep and can also lead to liver problems.

We tried melatonin for David far beyond the recommended 13 weeks trial and found that although it helped him fall asleep, it did not help David to sleep through the night.  This may be in part due to the difficulties we had in getting him to take (or not take and end up breaking) a prolonged release tablet.  However, I know several families that have taken melatonin for sleep with success and some considering it.

I hope this information may prove helpful.  I've got more posts on:

This post supports The Makaton Charity #wetalkmakaton sign of the week 'Good Morning'.  We love Makaton as it helps our family communicate and are happy to highlight their signs where and when we can.  I was sent a pair of blue light filter glasses by eyewearthese.com to try for purpose of review.  I love them and am happy to include them and information about them in our post.

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