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Use of Melatonin to Aid Sleep in Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a medical and mental illness that impacts your mood, behavior and daily level of functioning. This illness causes mild to severe bouts of depression and mania or mixed episodes of both. During manic episodes, sleep deprivation may occur because of an increase in brain chemical activity associated with energy. This chemical imbalance alters and lowers melatonin production. Melatonin is important for stimulating sleep. Prolonged bouts of mania can eventually result in increased irritability, aggression and recklessness. Part of the treatment process for bipolar disorder is aimed at stabilizing a regular sleep schedule to reduce manic episodes.
Discuss sleep concerns with your physician to obtain recommendations that suit your specific condition. Bipolar disorder is a serious medical condition, and use of melatonin supplements is cautioned to prevent adverse interactions. Melatonin can be stimulated naturally or with over-the-counter supplements; however, this is not advised without the supervision of your physician.
Activate natural melatonin with a light box. A light box is a small contraption used to mimic outdoor light and stimulate chemical changes in your brain. When used properly, this box can regulate your sleep cycles by generating melatonin production. Light-box therapy is used for different forms of depression and rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, notes “Psychiatric Times.” Consult with your physician regarding the amount of light needed to manage your symptoms. Light boxes are sold over the counter and are generally used for 30 minutes each morning to regulate your sleep pattern.
Eat foods containing melatonin. Low doses of melatonin are in cherries, walnuts and olive oil, as well as in other varieties of fruits and vegetables. Melatonin in foods may not induce sleep; however, it does provide healthy levels of the hormone to aid in stabilizing brain chemicals associated with symptoms of irritability. Talk to your physician for nutritional recommendations of foods with melatonin.
Change your environment. Your brain is triggered to produce melatonin upon darkness. Regulate your sleep pattern by creating a sleep environment that mimics nighttime darkness. Cover your windows with black sheets or curtains and create a sleeping area that is comfortable. Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Do not oversleep, because this can induce a depressive episode. Aim for seven to nine hours of nightly sleep.
Use a low-dose capsule supplement as an alternative to stimulating natural melatonin. Buy over-the-counter melatonin and follow packaging instructions for a daily dose. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that nightly doses of melatonin at 1 mg is effective for regulating sleep, but this is subject to your individual condition. Work with your physician on correct dosing of capsule supplements.
Tips and Warnings
Melatonin alone is not evidenced to effectively treat all of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Consult your physician on safety of use and other options for treating your symptoms.
Melatonin as a supplement or through natural induction is primarily targeted to trigger a regular sleep pattern, which may or may not alleviate other symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as depression, hyperactivity or insomnia.
Follow physician instructions for the best course of treatment of bipolar disorder.
The most common melatonin side effects include:
Other, less common melatonin side effects might include abdominal discomfort, mild anxiety, irritability, confusion and short-lasting feelings of depression.
In addition, melatonin supplements can interact with various medications, including:
Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants)
Medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants)
Birth control pills
If you’re considering taking melatonin supplements, check with your doctor first — especially if you have any health conditions. The correct dose depends on the intended use. For example, circadian rhythm sleep disorders are often treated with 0.5 milligrams of melatonin a day, while doses of 3 to 5 milligrams a day might be used to treat jet lag or reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. In addition, remember that melatonin is generally recommended only for short-term use — up to two months. Some research indicates that longer term use might be appropriate in certain cases, however.
If you take melatonin, choose commercial supplements produced in a lab. Melatonin supplements made from animal sources might contain various contaminants. Don’t engage in activities that require alertness — such as driving or operating heavy machinery — for four to five hours after taking melatonin.