Melatonin is often recommended for older adults who struggle with insomnia. Is it really effective for improving quality of sleep, or does it cause side effects?
Melatonin is a natural sleep aid produced by our bodies at night when we’re sleeping. It helps regulate our circadian rhythm (our body clock). This means that melatonin levels rise during the day and fall at night. In addition to helping us sleep better, melatonin has also been shown to improve memory and reduce anxiety.
Many studies suggest that melatonin supplements can benefit older adults suffering from insomnia. The evidence suggests that taking melatonin before bedtime improves sleep quality and reduces daytime tiredness. However, some research shows that melatonin can increase agitation and confusion in patients with dementia.
What Causes Sleep Disorders During Aging?
Circadian rhythms control daily cycles, like when we feel hungry, when our bodies release certain chemicals and when we feel tired or awake. In order to keep track of these cycles, the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) contain approximately twenty thousand neurons that form the central pacemaker. The SCN sends signals to the rest of the brain via the retinohypothalamic tract, which allows us to know what time it is.
With age, our sleep patterns change because of the effects of an aged SCN. A deteriorated function of the SCN may cause disruptions in circadian rhythms, which could influence when we’re feeling tired and alert.
Research has shown that lack of sunlight exposure can disrupt circadian rhythms, which can lead to sleep disorders and depression. For seniors living in nursing facilities and those suffering from Alzheimer’s, lack of sunlight exposure may be even worse.
Changes in hormone levels, including melatonin and cortisol, could be responsible for disrupted sleeping patterns among older people. Melatonin secretion decreases with age and cortisol increases with age.
Sleep Disorders and Health Conditions
Sleep problems often occur alongside mental and physical health conditions. For example, insomnia and restless leg syndrome often accompany depression. And chronic pain, particularly neck pain, can lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Other factors, including age, gender, lifestyle habits, and medical history, play a role in whether someone experiences sleep disorders.
The relationship between physical health and sleeping well is complex because many older adults experience multiple health conditions. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that nearly 25% of those aged 65–84 had four or more health conditions, and about half of participants had three or more. Older adults with multiple health conditions were much more likely to report trouble falling asleep and maintaining deep sleep, and also to report poorer overall sleep quality. These findings suggest that treating underlying causes of poor sleep could help improve sleep in older individuals.
Lifestyle and Sleep
Poor sleep quality in older adults can be linked to the lifestyle changes that are common during aging. Retirement leads to less work outside of the home and possible more napping and less structure in the sleeping routine. Social isolation increases stress levels, which can lead to increased anxiety, which can affect sleep patterns. In addition, there are many health conditions that can cause poor sleep quality. These include chronic pain, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea, arthritis, urinary incontinence and certain medications.
Sleep Issues With Seniors
Chronic sleep issues are common in older adults. In fact, about one-third of people over 65 suffer from insomnia. While many people think of insomnia as something young adults deal with, it’s actually quite common in older adults. Older adults often experience pain, discomfort, or confusion during the night. They may wake up feeling exhausted and unable to fall asleep again. And even if they do manage to fall asleep, they may awaken several times throughout the night. This can cause low energy levels and make it difficult to function the next day.
The good news is that there are ways to improve sleep in seniors. One of the most effective treatments involves improving sleep hygiene habits, such as getting enough sleep each night, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine and limiting naps. Also, medications may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. If none of those options work for you, your doctor might suggest cognitive behavioral therapy, light therapy, or melatonin supplements to help you get better sleep.
How Can Melatonin Help The Elderly?
Melatonin has been shown to have positive effects on sleep in older adults. It helps promote deeper sleep by increasing slow wave activity (SWA) in the brain. Slow wave activity is the stage of sleep where we dream. When SWA is high, we’re able to enter into REM sleep without waking up. Studies show that older adults who take melatonin tend to spend more time in this stage of sleep than those who don’t use melatonin.
In addition to helping you fall asleep, melatonin may also help keep you awake at night. Research shows that taking melatonin before bedtime reduces daytime sleepiness in older adults. However, it’s important to note that melatonin isn’t recommended for everyone. Talk to your doctor first if you want to try melatonin to see if it works for you.
Jet lag is a common problem for those traveling long distances by air. You may experience some of the following symptoms: disturbed sleep, daytime tiredness, impaired functioning, digestive problems and headaches.
Research suggests that melatonin supplements might help with jet lag. However, there are no high-quality clinical trials to support the use of melatonin for jet lag.
The most recent research about melatonin for jet lag includes four small studies conducted in 2010 and 2014. These studies suggest that melatonin may be effective for jet lag.
Anxiety in connection to surgery
Melatonin supplements are often used to treat insomnia and help you fall asleep faster. But did you know that taking melatonin could actually reduce your anxiety before and after surgery? A recent systematic review published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia suggests that melatonin supplements might be useful in helping reduce preoperative anxiety and postoperative pain.
The study included 12 randomized controlled trials involving 774 participants. The researchers found strong evidence that melatonin supplements are better than placebo at reducing preoperative anxiety. They also found some evidence that melatonin reduces anxiety after surgery. However, there wasn’t enough data to determine whether melatonin helped to relieve postoperative pain.
Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder
People with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD) have problems falling asleep at the typical hours and waking up too early in the day. These symptoms are however, most common during adolescence and young adulthood. Delayed sleep-wake phase syndrome is sometimes called “advanced sleep phase syndrome.”
The disorder causes disruption of circadian rhythms, meaning that there is some change in the timing of biological processes such as sleeping and waking. Some people with DSWPD experience excessive daytime sleepiness, while others do not. Other symptoms include mood changes, fatigue and impaired concentration.
A person with DSWPD might go to bed later than normal and wake up earlier than normal. He or she might feel tired during the day and find it difficult to fall asleep at night. Many people with DSWPD report feeling sleepy throughout the day.
DSWPD usually starts around age 12 and continues into adulthood. There is no known cure for DSWPD, however treatments do exist. For example, medications can reduce sleepiness and improve alertness. Treatment may take some time before it starts working, from a few weeks to even years.
What Are Some Sleeping Tips for the Elderly?
Research has shown that older people tend to experience poorer sleep patterns compared to younger adults. This is because many factors contribute to poor sleep in older people, including stress, pain, medications, medical conditions and environmental factors such as noise. However, there are ways to help older people manage these issues and improve their quality of sleep.
Exercise: Older people who exercise frequently tend to fall asleep faster, sleep better and report better quality sleep.
Exercise is one of the best things older people can do for themselves. In fact, research suggests that regular physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression, anxiety, dementia, falls and fractures.
The National Institute of Health recommends that older people engage in moderate-intensity aerobic activities three times per week for 30 minutes each session. If you’re already active, try adding strength training twice weekly to maintain muscle mass and bone density.
Avoid alcohol: Alcohol consumption increases blood pressure and heart rate, which can cause insomnia.
Avoid caffeine: Some studies suggest that caffeine intake may increase sleep latency, while others show no effect.
Limit screen time: Watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the web late at night can disrupt sleep cycles. Try turning off devices about 2 hours before bedtime.
Depression: Depression is common among older people. Talk to your doctor about whether your symptoms might be related to lack of sleep.
Healthy eating habits: Healthy eating habits include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy products, nuts and seeds. They can also help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and keep bones strong.
Melatonin-rich foods can also help improve your sleep time. You probably already eat some melatonin every day without even realizing it. But there are many ways to consume melatonin, including eating certain foods rich in this supplement. Here are six delicious options:
Walnuts – Walnut oil contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, plus vitamins B6 and E, folate, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. They also contain melatonin.
Flax Seeds – Flax seeds are loaded with antioxidants and fiber. And because they contain lignans, a type of phytoestrogen, they help balance hormones. Plus, they contain vitamin K, essential minerals such as iron and calcium and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids.
Oats – Oatmeal is a great source of soluble fiber, which promotes regularity and helps keep blood sugar steady throughout the day. It also contains beta-glucan, a type of dietary fiber that supports immune function.
Asparagus – Asparagus is a natural diuretic, meaning it makes urine flow easier. This makes sense since it contains compounds called saponins, which help flush out toxins from the body.
Olives – Olives are packed with antioxidants, especially polyphenols, which fight free radicals. Free radicals cause inflammation, which contributes to cardiovascular disease. So consuming olive oil regularly could lower your risk of suffering from a heart attack.
Pomegranate – Pomegranate juice contains a compound known as punicalagin, which boosts melatonin production. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that drinking pomegranate juice increased melatonin secretion in humans.
What Are The Risks?
While melatonin doesn’t seem to pose any serious risks, some side effects may occur. For example, taking too much could result in drowsiness. Some people report headaches after taking melatonin. Others say their heart rate becomes slower. Still others feel dizzy or nauseous. If these symptoms happen to you, stop using melatonin immediately and talk to your doctor.
If you decide to start taking melatonin, it’s best to start out slowly. Start with half the normal dose and gradually increase it until you find the right amount for you. You should only take melatonin once per night. Do not take melatonin if you’ve taken other drugs that contain acetylcholine within 24 hours of taking melatonin.
If you have trouble falling asleep, talk to your doctor about whether melatonin will be helpful for you.
Why does aging affect sleep?
As we age, our bodies become less efficient at producing hormones like serotonin and melatonin. These hormones regulate how well we sleep. As a result, older adults may need more sleep than younger adults.
How does aging affect sleep?
Sleep disorders are common among older adults. Many factors can affect sleep quality and stages of sleep, including medical conditions, medications and lifestyle choices. Here are some things that may contribute to poor sleep in older adults:
Older adults often suffer from chronic diseases, which can make them tired and lead to insomnia. Examples of chronic illnesses that can cause insomnia include diabetes, arthritis, depression, anxiety, stroke, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Medications used to treat these conditions can also cause insomnia.
Lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption, caffeine intake and lack of exercise can all negatively impact sleep.
Age itself can play a role in sleep patterns. People generally get fewer hours of sleep as they grow older.
Do older people need less sleep?
While many older adults struggle with sleep issues, there is no evidence that suggests that older adults need less sleep than younger adults. In fact, most experts agree that older adults require the same number of hours of sleep as younger adults.
Can I get too much sleep?
It’s possible to get too much sleep. When this happens, you may wake up feeling groggy and unable to function properly.
When to talk to a doctor about sleep problems
If you’re having difficulty getting or staying asleep, talk to your healthcare provider or sleep specialist. Your doctor can help determine what might be causing insufficient sleep and your sleep problems, and suggest ways to improve your sleep time. If you think you may have a sleep disorder and find it difficult to sleep at night, ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist who specializes in treating sleep disorders like chronic insomnia.
What is melatonin and how does it work?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. It helps control the body’s circadian rhythm (or internal clock). This means that melatonin levels rise during the day and fall at night. The timing of melatonin production varies depending on where you live. For instance, people living in northern climates produce more melatonin in the winter months.
Does melatonin help you to sleep better ? Yes! Studies show that taking melatonin supplements can help promote healthy sleep habits. As discussed, some studies even find that melatonin can reduce daytime drowsiness caused by jet lag.
Are there any side effects of taking melatonin?
Melatonin does not appear to cause any serious health problems. However, some people may experience mild side effects. For example, some people report feeling sleepy after taking melatonin. Other side effects include:
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty sleeping.
Do I need to take a prescription before taking melatonin?
No prescription is needed to buy melatonin over-the-counter. But, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting new medication.
What are the health benefits of taking melatonin?
Taking melatonin has been shown to increase the amount of deep sleep experienced by older adults and better-regulates our biological clock. Deep sleep is important because it allows our bodies to repair themselves while we rest. It also helps us feel refreshed after waking up.
Is melatonin helpful for preventing or treating COVID-19?
There is currently no scientific evidence suggesting that melatonin can prevent or treat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the illness caused by the new coronavirus. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, talk to your doctor about whether melatonin could help.
Does melatonin help with cancer symptoms?
Some research shows that melatonin can help ease some side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Talk to your doctor before using melatonin if you are undergoing treatment for cancer.
How do I take melatonin?
You should not use melatonin without first talking to your doctor. Melatonin comes in different forms, including tablets, capsules, liquids, gummies and patches. You can choose which form works best for you.
Can I take melatonin with other medications?
Talk to your doctor before combining melatonin with any prescription or over-the-counter medication. Certain drugs interact with melatonin, so make sure you tell your doctor if you are taking any medications.
Some Key Stats
- The 2003 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll looked at 11 common health conditions and found that 24% of people between 65 and 84 years old reported being diagnosed with four or more health conditions. (sleepfoundation.org)
- Almost 40% of adults over the age of 65 take five or more medications. (sleepfoundation.org)
- Research estimates that about 25% of older adults take naps, compared with around 8% of younger adults. (sleepfoundation.org)
- According to the National Institution on Aging, it is considered a myth that older adults require less sleep than younger individuals. (sleepfoundation.org)
- Around 20% of older people experience excessive daytime sleepiness, which may be a sign of an underlying health condition rather than merely old age. (sleepfoundation.org)