Consider these changes before turning to melatonin

It’s unknown how well melatonin supplements work, and most people with sleep issues would benefit more from good sleep hygiene practices, according to a sleep specialist.

Some people who have trouble falling asleep try melatonin supplements to boost levels of the hormone, which already is produced by the body.

Sold over the counter in pill and liquid forms, laboratory-made melatonin is absorbed directly into your system and can help adjust the body’s internal clock, regulating sleep-wake cycles.

However, many physicians don’t necessarily recommend melatonin to their patients with insomnia.

“Instead, I have found that good sleep hygiene, such as regularly following a scheduled bedtime and awakening time, limiting caffeine, avoiding daytime napping, and reducing TV and electronics use while in bed are all generally effective,” said William O. Lacy, M.D., pulmonology and sleep medicine specialist.

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If you have concerns about the quality of your sleep, talk with your primary care provider, who may refer you to a sleep specialist.

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However, a person’s age can be a factor for advocating melatonin use.

“I would consider melatonin as an aid in helping remedy insomnia in older individuals. As people age, their natural levels of melatonin decrease,” said Dr. Lacy, who sees patients at two Norton Pulmonary Specialists locations in Louisville.

Even though the supplement is considered safe, its effectiveness is unknown. Melatonin users may experience side effects, including excessive sleepiness, dizziness, fatigue and headache. Long-term use may lower testosterone levels in men. Therefore, Dr. Lacy urges caution for anyone considering taking melatonin.

“I also tell patients they certainly need to avoid using it in combination with other medications, such as fluvoxamine (Luvox). Likewise, those taking medication to manage high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and blood clots should avoid using melatonin; mixing these drugs could cause adverse reactions,” Dr. Lacy said.

Before trying melatonin or prescription medication for insomnia, Dr. Lacy recommends improving sleep habits or trying cognitive behavioral therapy. Prescription sleep aids, such as Ambien or Restoril, are for short-term use, meaning for no more than one to two weeks.

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