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Expert Opinions

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Is melatonin a good choice for insomnia?

Nava Zisapel, M.D., of the department of neurobiochemistry, Tel Aviv University, Israel, completed a study that found that the hormone melatonin may be effective for some people with insomnia (Archives of Internal Medicine, 11/99). Dr. Zisapel comments:

"We found that the hormone melatonin (2 mg a day) may help wean older people with insomnia off benzodiazepine tranquilizers. Some of the patients we looked at stopped taking all their medications, and they have been doing quite well for some months now. It really depends on what type of insomnia a person has. For example, some people with insomnia start taking benzodiazepines because they are agitated, then they become hooked. But if their original anxiety has resolved, there's no reason to continue taking tranquilizers. Similarly, melatonin can help those who can't sleep because their body clocks are off. Once they get back on track, they often can maintain sleep quality solely with very strict sleep hygiene.

Who might benefit most from melatonin therapy?

"Those who suffer from insomnia, particularly older people, very often have lower melatonin levels than their contemporaries," says Dr. Zisapel. "But it's something like having white hair. Some people go gray when young; others have dark hair into old age. People of any age who don't make enough of the hormone may benefit from supplemental melatonin. However, their insomnia may resume after a while if they stop taking it."

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