One of the most commonly used supplements in the US is melatonin and its use has tripled in the last twenty years in older individuals. But there’s no general agreement on the correct melatonin dosage, and study results on its effects on sleep quality in older individuals have been inconsistent.
Researchers carried out a study of 24 healthy, older individuals to assess whether sleep could be improved with a high-dose or a low-dose melatonin supplement. They discovered that the higher dose had a substantial impact, increasing total sleep time in comparison to placebo by over 15 minutes for nighttime sleep and by 30 minutes for daytime sleep.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
According to the researchers, sleep deficiency becomes more common as individuals get older, and many older individuals report taking melatonin given the disadvantages of many prescription sleep aids. But there’s little evidence on the effects of melatonin on the sleep health of older individuals. This study presents insight and evidence and highlights the importance of considering timing and dosage with regards to the effects of supplements such as melatonin, particularly in older individuals.
The hormone melatonin is naturally produced by the body and helps in regulating the day and night sleep-wake cycle. Levels of melatonin peak at night, but levels are generally lower in older individuals. Exogenous melatonin is sold without a prescription and can normally be taken as a capsule or pill before bedtime as a dietary supplement.
To thoroughly examine the effects of melatonin supplements, the researchers focused on healthy, older individuals without having any history of major sleep issues. The study consisted of 24 individuals between the ages of 55 and 78 who had been screened for sleep disorders.
The individuals participating in the study lived in separate rooms without any clocks, windows, or other time of day indicators throughout the 1 month study period. They adhered to a forced desynchrony protocol, rather than having 24-hour days and night cycles, they followed 20-hour cycle schedules to disentangle from the circadian clock’s rest-activity effects. This made it possible for the sleep to be scheduled at night as well as in the daytime, but with a similar waking duration before sleeping each time. They were randomly allocated to receive a placebo pill for 2 weeks and 2 weeks of either a melatonin low dose of 0.3 mg or a high dose of 5 mg half an hour before bedtime. Polysomnography was used for recording muscle tone, eye movement, brain waves, and other important sleep metrics.
It was revealed that the low melatonin dose didn’t result in overall sleep time change which was statistically significant and that the changes that were observed were when biological day sleep was scheduled. Individuals who took the 5 mg dose increased total sleep time and sleep efficiency significantly regardless if sleep was scheduled in the daytime or night.
The researchers remark that larger trials with other melatonin doses would needed to be conducted to ascertain if a dose between 0.3 and 5mg could also work as effectively. Individuals who had a sleep disorder of significance were not included in the study and the results might not be relevant to individuals who do.
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