By Sean Zucker –
Humans can sleep for a third of their lives if they’re lucky. Many, however, aren’t so fortunate which can wreak havoc on their overall health. Making matters worse is that one of the few natural sleep remedies may cause its own set of unique problems, especially for vulnerable mature individuals.
Plenty of people are already reaching for help. The University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, in fact, notes that one in three older adults take something to help them sleep. This includes prescription sleep medication, prescription pain medication and over-the-counter sleep aids with the majority reporting long-term use surpassing three years. While the university warns these options can present their own complications, another popular supplement has also raised experts’ eyebrows of late. Herbal and natural remedies, in particular melatonin, are in widespread use but sleep specialists warn that this alternative is not without its side effects, specifically when used on a nightly basis.
Michigan professor and director of its Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program Dr. Deirdre Conroy explained to Parade that one massive issue with melatonin is that the doses listed on bottles are wildly inconsistent with what’s actually inside. Beyond this, more isn’t always better when it comes to the supplement. “A lower dose of melatonin has been shown to show a bigger shift in the circadian phase than larger doses of melatonin,” she said.
Another issue is that the compound, which naturally occurs in human bodies, can also alter body temperature throughout the night. “There is an intricate connection between body temperature and melatonin,” she explained before noting that body temperature inherently declines at night, which causes melatonin levels to rise. This can result in supplement forms of melatonin to slightly raise body temperature throughout the night.
Still, these are mirror issues compared to insomnia and Conroy notes that melatonin has benefits when used correctly. The Sleep Foundation agrees. This information and data curator confirms that short-term use of the compound is perfectly harmless, but complications can arise when it becomes a daily habit. Notably, the organization states that long-term use of melatonin can decrease its effectiveness while negatively impacting one’s natural melatonin production. In short, overusing the supplement will eventually make sleeping problems worse. This is in addition to its common side effects like headaches, nausea and fatigue.
Unfortunately, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that nearly half of all older adults struggle with insomnia. MedlinePlus, an information service run by the United States National Library of Medicine, adds that sleep is less deep and choppier for older people than for younger people.
Regardless, mature individuals still require seven to eight hours of quality Zs each night. These adults may struggle with sleep due to a variety of age-related development including Alzheimer’s disease, changes in the body’s natural internal clock, heart conditions, certain medicines, nervous system conditions, inactivity or arthritis. Ultimately, poor sleep produces far-reaching and often subtle effects on health and quality of life for everyone including fatigue, confusion, tension, anxiety or depression according to the APA.
There are several effective methods to combat insomnia long-term naturally without the risks associated with melatonin. MedlinePlus recommends that older adults struggling with sleep should avoid large meals shortly before bedtime, exercise regularly, forgo the use of computers or cell phones in the bedroom, maintain a consistent bedtime and sleep in a quiet room that isn’t too hot or too cold.
A person following these tips who still fails to sleep after 20 minutes should get out of bed and do a quiet activity such as reading or listening to music for a short period before trying again.