Sleep Supplements Are Fine – but Not Apt to Help Much If It’s Apnea That’s Keeping You from a Good Night’s Sleep

If you wake up tired and experience daytime sleepiness or fatigue, you might just think you need to do something to improve the quality of your sleep. Maybe you’ll get inspired to try a sleep supplement – or two, or five – in hopes that it will help.

Amino acid supplements. Bedtime herbal teas or tonics. Cannabis. Valerian root extract. Lavender or other essential oils. Melatonin.

That last one has really spiked in popularity over the past decade, according to a recent research letter in JAMA. Between 1999 and 2018, use shot up from 0.4% to 2.1%, which might not sound like a lot, but it calculates to about 6 million people. More, the number of people taking higher doses rose, too.

And that’s a matter of concern, according to the letter’s authors, as the actual amount of melatonin in supplements may not match what the label says. According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine,

Melatonin content was found to range from −83% to +478% of the labelled content. Additionally, lot-to-lot variable within a particular product varied by as much as 465%.

For the record, the usual dosage for melatonin as a sleep supplement is less than 5mg, though higher dosages may have benefits beyond sleep, thanks to melatonin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. For instance, some research has suggested that it may support mitochondrial function in a way that gives it anti-aging properties. Other studies suggest it may help reverse some of the damage of gum disease and enhance osseointegration of dental implants, among other oral health benefits. Yet other research has found that it may protect against radiation exposure.

But those effects were found in studies in which extra caution was surely taken with respect to dosage – AND they were supervised. Most folks who choose melatonin supplements are likely buying them over the counter and using them at their own discretion, not with a doctor’s guidance. They may not even mention them when a doctor or dentist asks about any medications or supplements they may be taking.

We understand why a person might act that way. We don’t recommend it, though. With any kind of supplementation, the best – and safest – results come from working with a trusted health professional. They can recommend appropriate dosages, alert you to any medications they may not mix well with, guide you to good quality products, and otherwise help ensure that you achieve what you hope to achieve by taking supplements.

melatonin pills spilling out of bottleAnd that brings us back to where we started. While melatonin and other remedies can help some people get a better night’s sleep, that’s not the case when poor sleep is caused by snoring or undiagnosed sleep apnea. A supplement may help you get to sleep a little bit faster, but your sleep will still be disrupted through the night as your body struggles to get all the oxygen it needs.

If you’re still dragging through the day despite all efforts to improve your “sleep hygiene,” it would be wise to get evaluated for sleep apnea – or at the very least, do a self-evaluation using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to see if you should.

And don’t let the fear of CPAP keep you from doing this. It’s no longer the only option out there. That’s a great thing because although CPAP is literally life-saving for many people, others can’t tolerate it or just don’t want the hassle of the equipment or being tethered to an electrical device just to sleep.

These days, oral appliance therapy is now considered a first line treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea – and an option for severe apnea if CPAP isn’t well tolerated. (After all, a device – whether appliance or CPAP – can only be effective if used throughout the night.)

The devices Dr. Abdulla uses with snoring and apnea patients here in her Laguna Hills office are lightweight, biocompatible, custom fit, and designed to reposition the jaw in a more favorable, forward position, keeping your airway clear so you can breathe freely and easily all through the night.

If snoring or apnea is keeping you from a good night’s sleep, appliance therapy will do you far better than any amount of melatonin.

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