The older we get, the less we tend to sleep.
As we age, we might find it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. In fact, insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders among elderly.
One might consider using melatonin, which is largely considered a safe sleep aid supplement for healthy adults. Elderly people who want to use melatonin should consider whether melatonin will suit their health needs and lifestyle before use.
Why do we sleep less?
This is a natural result of your body’s changing hormone levels, which includes a change in the production of and sensitivity to melatonin.
As we get older, we produce less suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which plays a role in regulating our circadian rhythm. Less SCN has been found correlated to disruptions in this rhythm, which affects biological processes like sleep.
These changes might also contribute to why we produce less melatonin as you age, another factor that could play a role in decreased sleep.
But just because we get less sleep doesn’t mean we need less sleep.
People in the senior age group ideally need around 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. But as we age, it gets harder to get that much. Getting less sleep as we age can be characterized by shorter durations of sleep, more naps, increasingly disrupted sleep, and taking longer to fall asleep.
Sleeping pills vs. melatonin for elderly people
When we think of sleep aids, people might first think of sleeping pills. Sleeping pills are sedative hypnotics that include some categories of benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various hypnotics. These can be over-the-counter or prescription.
But is it a better option over taking melatonin?
Sleeping pills have more side effects
It’s important to highlight that neither sleeping pills nor melatonin are cures for sleep problems or disorders. Both have potential side effects, although sleeping pills' effects tend to be more pronounced.
You can also develop a tolerance to sleeping pills, possibly requiring more and more to be used to achieve the same effect. It is not recommended to take sleeping pills long term to avoid growing dependent on them.
For elderly people, substances might stay in the body for longer or they might develop a dependence on the medication.
Benzodiazepine sleep aids were also found to be correlated to more falls among elderly people, even if limited to short-time use.
Regardless of age, there are risks to taking sleeping pills. Some side effects might include:
- Dizziness or grogginess
- Feeling tired in the morning
- Elevations or drops in blood pressure
- Agitation or mood swings
- Poor concentration and memory loss; poor cognitive functioning
- Digestion problems (constipation or diarrhea)
Rather than sleeping pills, it’s worth trying other solutions that carry less risks. In such cases, melatonin has been tested as such an alternative.
Melatonin as better sleep aids for elderly people
Research does suggest that melatonin might be considered to be a safer alternative to taking sleeping pills, which have more prominent side effects.
A study notes additional benefits to melatonin being that it is hard to abuse, even long term.
In trials concerning elderly people with insomnia, the use of melatonin was found to have some general improvement in sleep quality, supporting its potential benefits.
Because we naturally produce less melatonin as we age, older people might be more sensitive to larger amounts of melatonin supplements.
We highly recommend starting at the smallest amount possible before gradually increasing the dosage. The average recommended dose for healthy adults is anywhere between 0.5mg to 10mg. The dose should be adjusted for children, elderly people, and people who have health conditions that might affect their sensitivity to melatonin.
Discuss an appropriate dosage with your physician beforehand.