Working with a lot of clients who are struggling with trauma and histories of abuse, anxiety and insomnia are constant problems. Many people have been prescribed medications such as Ambien, Sereoquel or one of the other mood stabilizers for sleep. Many of these medications have been found to have serious side effects. I am not a medical doctor, but a therapist, so I do not make medication recommendations. However, there is a natural, over-the-counter (OTC) medication which I often recommend that people look up and consider: melatonin. What is it and why do I recommend it?
Melatonin, the "Hormone of Darkness"
Melatonin is a natural product which can be purchased OTC at most pharmacies. It is the natural product your own body makes to tell you when it is time to go to sleep and has been referred to as the "hormone of darkness". Why? The body's production of melatonin is inhibited by light and permitted by darkness. When the sun goes down it signals to your body to increase its output of melatonin. Secretion of melatonin peaks in the middle of the night and gradually decreases during the second half of the night. This increased secretion as night comes creates the sleepiness we experience when it is time to go to bed and causes us to go to sleep.
(This is why its important for people with insomnia to try to schedule their sleep time to coincide with the natural movement of the sun going down. Darkness tells our bodies it is time to rest. This is another reason people with depression often feel so fatigued. They often stay up all night and sleep all day, which prevents their body from resting during the proper time of day and may prevent a deep, restful sleep.) But back to melatonin.
As we age our bodies produce less and less melatonin. Stress may also interfere with its production. Taking melatonin 20 to 30 minutes before going to bed helps your body replicate its natural processes. Melatonin is short acting so it helps you get to sleep, but does not leave you with a hangover in the morning like some sedatives.
The only drawback I have found is that it increases the vividness and depth of my dreams. Many clients have reported the same thing. From my own experience it causes much more vivid and memorable dreams. They are a bit odd, but boring. I do not experience nightmares or disturbing dreams with melatonin. If you are already experiencing nightmares, you might take it on a night where you don't have to go to work the next morning to try it out. Clients who have tried it have been very pleased with the results and have been able to depend less on sedatives or tranquilizers for sleep.