High dose melatonin increases sleep duration during nighttime and daytime sleep episodes in older adults
Aging is associated with changes in sleep, and improving sleep may have important consequences for the health, cognition, and quality of life of older adults. Many prescription sleep aids increase the risk of nighttime falls, have adverse effects on next-day cognition, and are associated with increased mortality. Melatonin, a hormone secreted at night, increases sleep duration in young adults but only when administered during the day when endogenous levels are low. In a month-long cross-over study, we randomized 24 healthy older (age >55, mean 64.2 ± 6.3 years) participants to receive 2 weeks of placebo and 2 weeks of either a low (0.3 mg) or high (5.0 mg) dose of melatonin 30 min before lights out. Sleep was polysomnographically recorded and was scheduled during both the biological day and night using a forced desynchrony design. Although 0.3 mg melatonin had a trend towards increasing sleep efficiency (SE) overall, this was due to its effects on sleep during the biological day. In contrast, 5 mg melatonin significantly increased SE during both biological day and night, mainly by increasing the duration of Stage 2 non-rapid eye movement sleep and slightly shortening awakenings. Melatonin should be further explored as a sleep aid for older adults.