Melatonin for Travelers' Sleep Woes?
Report: Melatonin Pills May Not Ease Sleep Problems From Jet Lag
Feb. 9, 2006 -- Melatonin supplements may not ease sleep woes caused by jet
lag, shift work, or health problems, according to a new study.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the brain. It helps regulate cycles of sleep
and wakefulness. As people age, they make less melatonin. Melatonin supplements
are dietary supplements, which aren't held to the same standards as
prescription drugs by the U.S. government.
Researchers from Canada's University of Alberta reviewed studies published
from 1999 to 2003. They found that taking melatonin supplements didn't help
people with sleep disorders fall asleep faster or sleep better -- at least not
in the studies they reviewed.
The studies focused on sleep, not daytime grogginess, note research
associate Nina Buscemi, PhD, and colleagues. They found that while melatonin
supplements appeared to be safe, the studies were too short to be sure about
The report appears in BMJ Online First.
Late, Restless Sleep
The researchers checked 13 electronic databases for studies on melatonin and
sleep disorders stemming from causes such as medical problems, substance
misuse, and sleep disorders caused by jet lag, late-night lifestyles, and shift
work. They also hand-searched abstracts of meetings from the Associated
Professional Sleep Societies.
Here's what they found:
- In 6 trials totaling 97 people, melatonin wasn't found to help people with
health-related sleep disorders fall asleep faster.
- In 9 trials totaling 427 people, melatonin wasn't found to help people with
sleep problems due to jet lag, late hours, or shift work fall asleep
Melatonin appeared to be safe, but the studies were rather short, so the
researchers don't draw any firm conclusions about that. They also weren't
thrilled with the quality of the studies they found.
Past research on melatonin has been mixed. In November 2005, a small study
suggested that taking melatonin before eastbound travel might ease jet
lag. In March 2005, another review of melatonin
research found that melatonin supplements might be modestly effective in
Further studies of melatonin are needed, and those studies should be well
designed, write Buscemi and colleagues.