Natural Way to Help Sleep

   The Efficacy and Safety of Exogenous Melatonin for Primary Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders affect approximately 20% of the American population. A sleep disorder exists whenever a lower quality of sleep leads to impaired functioning or excessive sleepiness. Although sleep disorders may be accompanied by other medical and/or psychiatric conditions, in many cases, sleep disorders exist in the absence of these other conditions, and are considered to be primary sleep disorders. The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, which is classified as a dyssomnia by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD). Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is another sleep disorder that is classified as a dyssomnia by the ICSD. Individuals with DSPS complain of difficulty falling asleep and difficulty waking-up at desired bed times and wake times, respectively. This disorder is thought to result from an out-of-phase endogenous circadian pacemaker that is displaced to a later than normal phase. Although DSPS may present as insomnia, it is a distinct disorder.

Current management of sleep disorders depends on the type and etiology of the disorder. The first line of treatment for sleep disorders is the improvement of sleep hygiene, which may consist of such strategies as strict adherence to a consistent routine 7 days per week, a quiet and comfortable sleep environment, wind-down time before bed, stimulus control, avoidance of alcohol and caffeine, and properly timed exercise. Similarly, the treatment of sleep disorders may include behavioral therapy, such as biofeedback and sleep restriction, chronotherapy, and light therapy,1 which are used in the treatment of circadian rhythm disorders; and pharmacotherapy with sedatives and/or hypnotics.

Endogenous melatonin exists as a hormone; it is secreted by the pineal gland and is linked to the circadian rhythm. Studies of melatonin in the 1970s and 1980s revealed sedative/hypnotic effects of the compound,12–15 which have led to its use as a treatment for sleep disorders.

We conducted a systematic review of the efficacy and safety of melatonin in the management of primary sleep disorders. Our findings can help to guide clinicians and patients in treatment decisions regarding the use of exogenous melatonin in the management of this condition.

   Food-Sourced Melatonin Provides Natural Way to Help Sleep

Studies on melatonin have documented that the body's own melatonin production helps us fall asleep, yet research on supplemental melatonin has been disappointing. What many have missed is that certain foods provide natural forms of melatonin, which have been shown to raise melatonin blood levels naturally and significantly aid sleep.

An abundance of research has linked higher melatonin levels with the ability to fall asleep. Yet this research has been done on the body's own melatonin production. Melatonin production is stimulated by the pineal gland as the sun sets and the lights dim during the later evening. This helps us fall asleep, as melatonin helps slow down cellular metabolism.

As most of us age, and especially with higher stress levels, our body's ability to produce melatonin wanes. This can produce a chronic issue of sleeplessness – which has the potential for producing greater risk of various disorders as we age - as lack of sleep quality has been linked with a myriad of chronic disorders, from chronic fatigue to dementia.

   Does Supplement Melatonin Work and Is It Safe?

Yet synthetic melatonin – either produced in the lab or from cow urine – does not produce the same effects as the body's own (endogenous) melatonin. Some studies have shown that synthetic melatonin can help ones sleep-phase cycles slightly – helping during jet lag or similar situations – when our sleep cycles get messed up.

But as a sleep inducer – synthetic melatonin has been disappointing at best. Some research – such as studies by Dement and Vaughan (1999) – has even found that synthetic melatonin can stunt growth among younger people along with producing a myriad of other side effects such as dizziness and headaches.

Furthermore, supplemental melatonin's effectiveness as a sleep aid has been shown to be questionable. In an extensive review by researchers from the University of Alberta (Buscemi et al. 2004) prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 932 studies on melatonin since 1999 were analyzed—with 132 being qualified as offering clear results with good protocols. The study concluded that supplemental melatonin was:

• Not effective for treatment of most primary sleep disorders
• Not effective in treating most secondary sleep disorders
• Offered no evidence of effectiveness for jet lag and shift-worker disorders

   Certain Natural Foods Provide a Safe Means of Melatonin

Yet little attention has been put on the fact that nature provides another means for increasing blood melatonin levels – by eating certain natural foods.

And recently, research from Thailand's Khon Kaen University has found that the body's levels of melatonin can be naturally raised through eating of some tropical fruits.

The researchers used a crossover study design with 30 healthy human subjects to see which fruits - tropical fruits selected for their melatonin content - would naturally raise the body's melatonin levels.

The researchers tested six tropical fruits among the volunteers, giving them a diet heavy in that particular fruit for one week following a one-week washout. During these periods the researchers analyzed the subjects' urine levels of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin – also referred to as aMT6s.

Higher levels of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin or aMT6s in the urine indicates higher levels of melatonin circulating within the bloodstream.

With each different fruit, the subjects' aMT6s levels were tested. The 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) levels after eating some fruits – notably pineapples, bananas and oranges – increased significantly. Pineapples increased 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) levels by over two-and-a-half times (266%)while banana increased aMT6s levels by 180% - almost double. Meanwhile, oranges increased aMT6s levels by 47%.

The other fruits also moderately increased melatonin content among the patients.

   Other Foods also Provide Melatonin Safely

Other research – as reported by Realnatural – has shown that natural melatonin from red tart Montmorency cherries (Prunus cerasus) can increase sleep efficiency and quality. A study from an international group of researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice for seven days increased sleep by an average of 34 minutes a night – by speeding up falling to sleep – and increased sleep efficiency by 5-6%.

And like the study from Thailand, the research found that drinking cherry juice increased 6-sulfatoxymelatonin levels naturally – without the need of exogenous or synthetic melatonin supplements.

Other foods that naturally increase melatonin levels include oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, mangosteen and barley.

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