Sleep drugs wildly popular, and expensive, but not terribly effective–what about melatonin as an alternative?

We were amused to see the recent New York Times article about how many billions of dollars Americans spend on popular sleep drugs like Ambien, yet how little effect these medications actually seem to have:

Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular  NYT Oct. 23, 2007

Meanwhile, there have been a number of studies over the years pointing to the dietary supplement melatonin as a useful sleep aid, providing comparable effects to the prescription meds.

 

For example:

 

 Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1996 Jul;126(2):179-81.

 

Low dose melatonin improves sleep in healthy middle-aged subjects.

Attenburrow ME, Cowen PJ, Sharpley AL.

University Department of Psychiatry, Littlemore Hospital, Oxford, UK.

We studied the effects of single evening doses of melatonin (0.3 mg and 1.0 mg orally) on polysomnographically measured sleep in 15 healthy middle-aged volunteers, using a placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over design. Compared to placebo, the 1.0 mg dose of melatonin significantly increased Actual Sleep Time, Sleep Efficiency, non-REM Sleep and REM Sleep Latency. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that low dose melatonin has hypnotic effects in humans. It is possible that administered melatonin may have a role to play in the treatment of sleep disorders. 

There are also current studies funded by NIH on melatonin for sleep disturbances in the elderly, and in people with Alzheimer’s.

 

But getting back to the New York Times piece: while the article reported prices of prescription sleep aids in the $2-4 range per dose, the typical melatonin dose can cost just a few cents. See, for example, the Douglas Labs Melatonin stocked by NYBC.

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