Status message

We’re Hiring! Click here to see available positions.

Melatonin Isn't as Beneficial as You Think

By Dr. Matt Narrett, Chief Medical Officer, Erickson Senior Living
April 10, 2023

Are you getting enough sleep? Adequate sleep (seven to eight hours a night) is essential for your overall well-being, yet surveys show that anywhere from 40% to 70% of seniors report poor quality sleep or insomnia regularly.

Poor sleep quality is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, memory problems, and a higher likelihood of falls and other accidents.

Insufficient evidence

While difficulty sleeping is not a normal aspect of aging, multiple factors associated with aging can interfere with sleep. Having health conditions such as dementia, frequent urination, depression, or chronic pain can disrupt sleep patterns, as can taking some prescription and over-the-counter medications.          

No cure exists for insomnia, but many products are advertised as such - melatonin capsules and gummies being the latest trend. This hormone, produced by your body in response to darkness, is purported to be safe and natural.

Read your labels!

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, however, does not recommend it because of insufficient scientific evidence supporting its safety or effectiveness for chronic insomnia. There are concerns for older adults with dementia using melatonin, and some research shows that it takes longer to wear off in seniors than in younger adults. It can also interact with other medications, especially blood thinners.

Melatonin is a prescription drug in some countries, but in the U.S., it is considered a dietary supplement. As such, it is not tightly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2017, researchers tested 31 different melatonin supplements from grocery stores and pharmacies and found that the actual amount of melatonin often did not match the label's claim. Surprisingly, 26% of the supplements also contained serotonin, which can interact with other medications.

Establish good sleep habits

If you have seen your doctor and ruled out medical causes for insomnia, your next step should be to develop good sleep habits - not a supplement. Eat regular meals, get in more physical activity, and try to avoid naps during the day. Avoid snacking or drinking too much liquid in the evening. Caffeine should be avoided at least eight hours before you settle down. Although alcohol can help you get to sleep initially, it actually has a rebound stimulant effect later in the night and that ultimately disrupts your sleep cycle.

Once you're ready to sleep, create a slumber-friendly environment that's quiet, free of light, and of a slightly cooler temperature. Establishing an evening routine with meditation, reading, or prayer can also be helpful.

In general, over-the-counter medicines for sleep are dangerous for seniors, and prescription sleeping pills are also associated with side effects such as falls, daytime drowsiness, and driving impairment.

A good night's sleep is fundamental to your health and well-being. Taking a common-sense approach is the best way to go, but if you feel like you've tried everything without success, please talk with your doctor. Sleeping well can make all the difference in how you feel throughout the day.

Health and well-being are at the forefront of the active and engaged lifestyle at Erickson Senior Living communities. To learn more about Erickson Senior Living, request a free brochure.