The Beastie Boys may have had “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” But are more and more Americans having no sleep till melatonin? According to a research letter published on Tuesday in JAMA, the percentage of people using melatonin increased from 0.4% in 1999-2000 to 2.1% in 2017-2018. So does this mean that sleep issues like insomnia and jet lag have been on the rise or are more people opting for such supplements to deal with such issues?
Now 2.1% certainly isn’t the majority of Americans. It’s not as if melatonin use is everywhere like hair on Hugh Jackman. But an over four-fold jump is nothing to sneeze at right now. If you are regularly sneezing at statistics, you should see a doctor. Plus, much of the increase really occurred over an even shorter period of time since 2009-2010. Moreover, the percentage of people who used more than the 5 mg recommended dose per day went from 0.08% in 2005-2006 to 0.28% in 2017-2018. That’s an over three-fold increase in about 12 years.
Now, keep in mind that these numbers are based on a sample and not asking everyone in the United States about their melatonin use. The study was an analysis of responses to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This survey is administered on periodic basis to samples of the US population. Included among the questions are those about a variety of health-related habits including dietary supplement use. A research team from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (Jingen Li, MD, PhD), Xiyuan Hospital (Hao Xu, MD, PhD), and the Mayo Clinic (Virend K. Somers, MD, PhD, Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, MD , MSc, and Naima Covassin, PhD) then analyzed data from 10 cycles of the NHANES from 1999 to 2018. Ultimately, this data consisted of responses from 55,021 adults, 52% of whom were women, with an average age of 47.5 years. The number of 62 to per cycle varied from 4865. Therefore, take the results from this study with an NFT of salt.
Melatonin is not the former First Lady of the US That was Melania. Instead, melatonin is a hormone that your body produces, assuming that you are human rather than just a large vat of Nutella. The pineal gland in your brain is a big time secretor of the stuff. The levels of this hormone vary throughout the day, being highest at night when it is dark. Melatonin typically helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. That’s why some folks may try melatonin when they have trouble initiating sleep.
Melatonin doesn’t seem to have the risks that many other sleep medications have, such as daytime disorientation and decreased effectiveness over time. However, people have experienced side effects such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, depression, mild tremors, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, reduced alertness, confusion or disorientation, and abnormally low blood pressure. Because melatonin can cause daytime drowsiness, don’t drive or use machinery, make major life decisions, or choose to storm the Capitol building within five hours of taking the supplement.
Moreover, melatonin supplements may interact with different medications such as certain anticoagulant, diabetes, and contraceptives medications. This is yet another reason why taking melatonin right before having sex would be a bad idea. The other major reason is that you would be about to have sex. Telling your partner, “before we get down to business, I will need to take sleep aid,” may not be the most romantic thing to say.
Before you decide to always have sex in the middle of the day so that you can take melatonin every night, note that no one really knows the possible effects over time of regularly taking melatonin. There just haven’t been enough long-term studies to tell.
Just because something naturally occurs, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily safe. “Natural” doesn’t automatically equate to harmless. For example, even though poop occurs naturally, it’s not a great idea to put it into your mouth. Moreover, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements the same way it does medications. As I’ve covered previously for Forbes, supplements may contain other ingredients including contaminants. That’s why you should be careful about where you purchase any supplements, what may actually be in them, and how often you may use them.
A study published in a February 2016 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report estimated that about one in three Americans are chronically sleep deprived. As this CBS News segment showed, a RAND Corporation study found that 45% of Americans routinely were getting less than seven hours of sleep a night:
Thus, there’s a decent chance that sleeping is not exactly smooth sailing for you. If you are having trouble falling asleep, it’s better to first try lifestyle modifications before opting to put anything into your mouth or body. This includes removing anything from your surroundings that may prevent you from initiating sleep such as electronic equipment, noise, or that alpaca in your bedroom. Changing your diet such as reducing your caffeine and alcohol consumption may help also. Other options include increasing your physical activity and exposure to sunlight during the day, assuming that you aren’t a vampire and burst into flames. If you are still having trouble initiating sleep, contact your doctor to make sure that you don’t have a health condition that’s affecting your sleep and to suggest other sleep-inducing strategies. While the Beatie Boys may have sung, “another place, another train, another bottle in the brain,” you don’t want to rely on something in a bottle to get to sleep every night.