According to new research, melatonin can lead to more quality sleep. Published in the journal Critical Care, researchers from Capital Medical University in Beijing found that intensive care unit (ICU) patients using melatonin experience much improved snooze, compared to simply using an eye mask and earplugs at night.
While melatonin is naturally produced in the body to regulate sleep, increasing in periods of darkness to encourage drowsiness, it is also artificially created to treat some sleep disorders and beat jet lag symptoms.
Past studies have indicated that hospital staff, light and noise are all serious problems that keep ICU patients awake, which also makes their hospital stays longer with slower recovery times.
40 healthy participants were used to study the effects that simulated ICU conditions had on sleep patterns. For the first four nights all participants were allowed sleep normally in a sleep laboratory, but on alternating nights a recording from a typical night shift at an ICU was played with light levels made the same as in the hospital.
Then, the participants were randomly divided into 4 equal groups as they continued sleep in the ICU simulation environment for 4 more nights. The first group did not receive any sleep aid, the second were provided with eye masks and earplugs, the third group took 1mg of fast-release oral melatonin at bedtime, and the fourth group of participants was given a placebo, but they didn’t know it at the time.
Through blood samples and the measuring of sleep quality by assessing eye movement, muscle tension, brain activity and self-reporting, it was found that patients experience less anxiety and awakenings during the night when they took melatonin. They also spent more time in REM sleep, the stage of sleep associated with cognitive restoration.
Melatonin could be helping more patients in the future with the research team planning to study even patients and how to implicate this care safely. Always consider speaking to a doctor before trying any new medications, melatonin is not intended for long-term use.