The consequences of a sleepless night follow you throughout the next day. Lack of quality sleep will eventually have negative consequences for your mental, emotional and physical health. Fortunately, if you occasionally need help falling asleep, there are a variety of herbal, non-prescription and prescription remedies available. Some dietary supplements contain melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone produced and secreted in the brain. While melatonin is natural, you should take precautions when mixing it with other insomnia treatments. Talk with your physician if you are considering taking melatonin along with another sleeping aid.
How Melatonin Works
Melatonin is the hormone that helps plants and animals maintain their normal daytime-nighttime, wake-sleep cycles of life. In humans and other mammals, most of the body's supply of melatonin is produced and secreted by tiny pineal gland. The body makes its melatonin using the amino acid tryptophan as the main ingredient. Melatonin is produced at night in humans. Exposure to light slows its production and release. Some dietary supplements contain melatonin made in the laboratory by chemical synthesis, while others get their melatonin from cow pineal glands. Melatonin supplements might be helpful for people whose sleep cycles are interrupted due to late-shift work or travel.
Prescription Sleeping Pills
Taking melatonin along with prescription sleep aids is a double-edged sword. Melatonin might help you get to sleep faster, lower the dose of prescription sleep aids you take and avoid the grogginess you feel the next day. On the other hand, combining sleep aids might produce too much sleepiness and possibly pose a risk of accidents. You should avoid any activity that requires mental alertness after taking melatonin alone or with other sleep medications. For this reason, the U.S. National Institutes of Health website MedlinePlus recommends against taking melatonin with sedatives and other central nervous system depressants including clonazepam, lorazepam, phenobarbital and zolpidem. This risk makes it even more crucial that you consult your physician before mixing melatonin with other sleeping aids.
Some antihistamines used in allergy and cold remedies can cause drowsiness. Most non-prescription sleeping pills contain an antihistamine as the active ingredient. Diphenhydramine, doxylamine and chlorphenamine are used alone and sometimes combined with pain relievers. As with prescription sleeping pills, adding melatonin will increase sluggishness and drowsiness. This can be dangerous if circumstances change and you need to stay awake awhile longer.
Herbs and Supplements
Dietary supplements that have been used to treat insomnia contain, alone or in combination, tryptophan, California poppy, catnip, hops, Nepeta cataria, kava, skullcap, valerian, chamomile and other ingredients. Neither the U.S. National Institutes of Health nor the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality websites document any specific interactions between melatonin and any herbal or supplemental sleep aids, but the same risks of excessive drowsiness and sleepiness apply to sedative herbs and supplements.
Is This an Emergency?
- Ahrq.gov: Melatonin for Treatment of Sleep Disorders
- Consumerreports.org: Sedatives: Summary of Recommendations
- Systematic Reviews in Pharmacy: Melatonin, Receptors, Mechanism; SH Omar; et al. ; January 7, 2011
- Nlm.nih.gov: Melatonin
- Umm.edu: Insomnia - Medications
- Vanderbilt University Health Psychology: Melatonin: The Myths and Facts; Courtney Ratzburg
- Familydoctor.org : Melatonin