December 4, 2022

We live in an era where sleep disorders are common.
The causes of sleep deprivation are diverse, but the ill effects of frequent, recurrent, and chronic sleep loss are correlated with increase in chronic illnesses and loss of effective and productive working hours.
A study conducted on persons 50 years old and above in the United Kingdom and in France has shown that less than five hours of sleep puts a person at risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, heart failure, chronic obstructive lung disease, liver disease, dementia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis.
At 50, the risk was 30 percent compared to those who slept for at least seven hours a night. The risk increased to 32 percent at age 60 and to 40 percent at age 70.
Other studies have correlated chronic sleep deprivation with mental illness and diseases of the stomach and intestines.
Further studies are needed to show if the insufficient hours of sleep is the cause of the chronic disease or vice versa, and it is also being studied if five hours of quality sleep may be better than eight hours of poor-quality, frequently-interrupted sleep.
It is prudent for us to take another look at the importance of adequate sleep. It has a role in the regulation of our bodily functions – in the growth of tissues and the breakdown of cells and the elimination of toxins and inflammatory substances from our body.
It is a natural (normal) thing that we sleep at night and be awake during daytime. Even the release of hormones is affected by our sleep and waking patterns. Disruption of the natural sleep-wake cycle and biological clock leads to dysregulation of our metabolism and bodily functions. It has been said that we owe our body three nights of sleep for one night’s sleep lost. It is a common health concern nowadays that sleep disorders are either not diagnosed, ignored, or not adequately treated.
Melatonin, called the “hormone of darkness” is naturally produced by the pineal gland that is located deep in the middle part of our brain.
The hormone has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and studies have shown that it has protective effects against hypertension and endothelial dysfunction.
Endothelial dysfunction involves damage to the lining of our arteries.
Melatonin is the only known hormone released by the pineal gland in response to darkness. It provides a circadian signal to our body, is released into the bloodstream, and can enter all body tissues. Exposure to light inhibits the release of melatonin, which explains why it is difficult to get adequate sleep in brightly-lit areas.
Melatonin supplements synthetically produced in laboratories are sometimes prescribed to persons with sleep disturbances and have been considered to be useful in the management of acute (new, sudden) or chronic (long duration) sleep disorders like jet lag and adult insomnia.
Further studies and scientific guidelines are still needed to support its regular use in the management of otherwise healthy children and adolescents who present with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. The timing of administration is important, so is the dose.
Potential side effects include worsening of rheumatoid arthritis and in females it can cause menstrual abnormalities. There are still not enough scientific data to support the use of melatonin in the treatment of depression, chronic pain, dementia, and Covid-19.
For safety and best results, melatonin use should be with the supervision of a health care provider.
Drug therapy for sleep disorders comes second to the identification and management of the cause.


Medical questions and suggestions may be emailed to [email protected] or [email protected]