Melatonin Dosages for Sleep Apnea

Young woman sleeping in a bed
Taking melatonin does not help you keep your airways open. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Sleep apnea can be a difficult condition to treat, and going for long periods without adequate sleep can lead to serious health complications. Your physician may recommend medication or devices to help you breathe better while sleeping, or you may be referred to a sleep specialist. In some cases, taking melatonin may also help, however, it should only be used under medical supervision.

Sleep Apnea

The first step in treating sleep apnea is to determine which type you have. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when your airway becomes blocked by the soft tissue in the back of the throat, says the American Sleep Apnea Foundation. This causes the airway to become blocked or even close during sleep. When breathing stops, your brain sends signals to wake you up so you start breathing again. Central sleep apnea is diagnosed when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe during sleep. When the level of oxygen in the body gets too low, the brain is then stimulated to send signals to wake you up. Some people develop mixed apnea, which is a combination of the two. Underlying issues such as obesity or medical conditions must be addressed to fully manage sleep apnea. Having sleep apnea can cause you to walk up hundredes of times a night.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and its primary role is to regulate your sleep and wake cycles. Melatonin is secreted in higher amounts during the night and then decreases during the day. Too much or too little light, jet lag, vision problems, shift work and many other situations can interfere with the normal secretion rate of melatonin. If melatonin levels become too low, you may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and taking supplements may help. Everyone's sensitivity to melatonin is different so there is no one dose that works in all cases. It may take some experimentation to find the right dose, however, a general recommendation is to take no more than your body normally produces, which is less than 0.3 mg per day, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Melatonin and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea that goes untreated can cause high blood pressure, mood swings, excessive fatigue and memory problems. The preferred treatment is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device, which helps to keep the airway open during sleep, reports the National Sleep Foundation. Losing excess weight, avoiding sleeping on your back, limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking can all help as well. Your physician may also recommend taking melatonin to help you get a better night's sleep, however, melatonin on its own will not help to keep your airway open. For some patients taking supplements or sleep aids may cause the soft tissue in the back of the throat to relax too much, which impairs breathing even more and can make your sleep apnea worse.

Safety

Melatonin is considered generally safe for most when taken short term, however, side effects can include headache, depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps and irritability. It is not recommended for children, women who wish to become pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding. Melatonin can make high blood pressure, diabetes, seizure disorders and depression worse, according to MedlinePlus. Melatonin can interact with many other medications so it should only be used under medical supervision.

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