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Melatonin Can Help You Sleep, So Why Isn’t It Readily Available In The UK?

Sleep can be the most elusive necessity and health benefit for so many of us.

One treatment getting increasing amounts of support from insomniacs is melatonin. In fact, earlier this year, CNN reported that the use for melatonin to help us sleep is on the rise in the US, so why is it not as readily available in the UK?

Dr Hana Patel, GP and specialist in specialist in sleep and mental health, has answered GLAMOUR’s questions about melatonin – what it is, how you take it, and why we may not have heard about it – while also outlining why it’s so crucial that women seek treatment for trouble sleeping.

She points out that hormonal complications may make it harder for us to sleep: “For women, sleep issues can be worse if they are experiencing hormonal fluctuations, such as changes in their menstrual cycle or menopausal symptoms.”

Here’s everything you need to know about melatonin.

What is melatonin and how does it help us sleep?

It’s a sleep hormone that our body produces naturally to help regulate our sleep patterns. But you can also get a prescription of an artificial version of melatonin from the doctor, in order to dal with short-term sleep problems and insomnia.

According to the NHS website, “it makes you fall asleep quicker and less likely to wake up during the night. It can also help with symptoms of jetlag.”

It comes in two forms, either slow-release tablets or a liquid that you drink.

Why isn’t melatonin available in the UK as readily as other countries?

While it’s fairly straightforward to get a prescription of melatonin in other countries like the US, Canada, Germany and Denmark, it’s less readily described by doctors in the UK.

Dr Patels explains why this is: “We are regulated by the NHS, and the guidance from National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends the medication that doctors and GPs can prescribe, based on research and cost effectiveness. This is why [melatonin] is not as easily prescribed, or for prolonged periods.”

But times are changing, melatonin is much more readily prescribed in the UK than it used to be.

That said, if you are prescribed melatonin, your doctor will keep a close eye on its effectiveness and will not continue to prescribe it if it doesn’t seem to work after 13 weeks.

“We only use it as a short term medication in UK and this is what the evidence says is the best way to take and prescribe melatonin,” Dr Patel says.

Can people of all ages take melatonin?

The NHS website notes that melatonin is used to treat patients that are 55 years and older, but also in children and to prevent headaches for adults.  So it can be prescribed to all ages, dependent on their medical situation.

Dr Patel adds that melatonin is particularly useful in treating young people with ADHD, also.

Are there potential problems or side effects from taking melatonin?

It can cause daytime drowsiness, so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on the impact it has on your waking hours versus how well it helps you sleep through the night.

Dr Patel also warns of the following side effects, which are not very common but still notable: “

  • Short-lasting feelings of depression 
  • Mild tremor 
  • Mild anxiety 
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Irritability
  • Reduced alertness, confusion or disorientation