Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders have been implicated as risk factors in a number of health problems. Sleep deprivation, whether due to a reduced quantity of sleep or a disturbed quality of sleep, affects a variety of essential functions and hormone balances, and contributes to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. It affects general mental functioning, in particular, daytime alertness, memory functions, and decreased learning ability.

There is some recent evidence that sleep deprivation also depresses the immune system which means the body is less able to fight off viruses and infections.

As we grow older sleep becomes lighter and more interrupted and other factors might impact on our ability to get that “good” night’s sleep.

It is not unusual to wake up during the night. Partly as a result of lower melatonin levels, sleep becomes more shallow, fragmented and variable in duration with age. The ageing bladder can contribute a couple of awakenings each night. In women hot flushes may occur at night and cause awakenings. Alcohol before bedtime causes fragmented and possibly disturbed sleep.


Melatonin is a hormone that is mainly produced by the pineal gland, in the brain. It is regulated by the circadian rhythm and gets suppressed by visible light. It is a powerful endogenously produced antioxidant.

As a person ages, melatonin production falls.

Melatonin induces sleep, shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, and aids a faster onset of deep sleep (slow wave sleep) and REM sleep. This improves sleep quality and enhances recovery. You wake up having had a good night’s sleep.

Shift workers, people who are sleep deprived and people with jet lag, probably have low melatonin levels and supplementation can be useful.


  • It’s a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger.
  • It protects DNA, proteins and lipids from damage.
  • Melatonin has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • It protects against radiation.
  • Decreases damage from beta amyloid which is increased in Alzheimers disease.
  • Is a documented anti-cancer agent.
  • Improves immunity favourably.
  • Extends life by lengthening telomeres (the ends of chromosomes) that would normally shorten with age.
  • Reduces abdominal fat and controls insulin – this helps to prevent obesity and diabetes.
  • Helps irritable bowel, acid reflux and protects the stomach from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Helps migraine, depression, anxiety.


  • The doses used for cancer patients have been up to 50mg/day.
  • The suggested dose is 0.5- 1mg, taken 30-60 minutes before bed. Increase by 0.5-1 mg every 2-3 days until the person can get off to sleep, and wakes refreshed.
  • Most patients find that they need between 1-6mg to get a good sleep. This is available on prescription. It is licensed for adults as well as children with sleep disorders.
  • If the person wakes drowsy, take earlier before bed, or reduce the dose.
  • A minority of people have no effect or experience vivid dreams. For vivid dreams – reduce the dose and persevere for up to 3 weeks with it, and it should resolve.


  • Care should be taken with a history of depression.
  • Alcohol and non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs lower melatonin levels.

For further advice and to arrange an appointment please call the Medical Clinic on 01243 771455.