Since melatonin is the brain-produced hormone that regulates our sleep cycles, many people have thought that taking melatonin supplements at night would aid with sleep disorders. But researchers at the University of Alberta Evidence-Based Practice Center in Canada recently reviewed 130 studies of melatonin use in sleep disorders and concluded that there is no evidence that melatonin supplements help insomnia -- at least in most cases. There was one exception: Researchers found that in two studies of persons with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) melatonin seemed helpful. People with DSPS have difficulty falling asleep before the early morning hours and then have trouble waking in the morning, which seems to suggest abnormalities in their melatonin production cycles. Theoretically, it seems that melatonin should work across the board with sleep disorders. Why didn't it? Researcher Nina Buscemi, PhD, says that if a person already is producing normal levels of melatonin, giving him or her additional melatonin won't help. In many of the studies looked at, Dr. Buscemi said, melatonin was given just before bedtime, when natural internal levels would have been high, anyway -- at least in those people who were producing normal levels. When levels are low, such as in those with DSPS, supplemental melatonin is more likely to have an effect. I asked Mark Stengler, ND, a naturopathic physician in La Jolla, California, for his reaction to the Alberta study. He said that he has seen a number of other studies showing positive results with melatonin. But he agrees that melatonin is not a panacea in sleep disorders. However, there are some do-it-yourself methods to maximize your melatonin output. Try these before considering supplements...
*Make sure your bedroom is completely dark. Darkness stimulates melatonin release.
*Consume foods containing tryptophan in the evening. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor in making melatonin. Tryptophan-rich foods include turkey and milk, hence the familiar adage to drink milk before bedtime. You also can consider having your doctor write a prescription for tryptophan, but take it only under his/her supervision.
*Avoid alcohol, aspirin and caffeine -- they can depress melatonin production.