Snoozing on sleep aid side effects

Eugene Ko, Lifestyle Editor

After countless restless nights, senior Amelia Rench started taking melatonin, a type of sleep aid, to help keep her asleepthroughout the night.

“I had a really hard time sleeping through my freshman year,” said Rench. “I would sleep, then wake up like an hour later.”

According to Andrew Krystal, director of a sleep research program at the University of California, San Francisco, not much is known about the long-term effects of using sleep aids.

“Melatonin seems safe to use in the short-term, but unfortunately, there isn’t enough studies done on long-term effects,” Krystal said.

Douglas Kirsch, a physician specializing in sleep medicine at Atrium Health, said sleep aids are just one solution to poor sleep.

“There are three main ways people try to help themselves: prescription pills, over-the-counter medication and … herbal supplements,” Kirsch said.

Rench said she uses melatonin of any brand from local pharmacies. She follows the instructions on the melatonin package to determine how much to consume.

According to Kirsch, melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep. Melatonin is not well-regulated, and the amount per tablet can vary.

“[‘Natural’ is] a descriptor which may be used by companies differently,” said Kirsch. “A drug that is ‘natural’ may be no better functioning or safer than one that is not described as such.”

According to Kirsch, sleep aids, including melatonin, can cause drowsiness which can be detrimental in the classroom setting.

Rench said that after taking melatonin, she does not feel impacted by any side effects.

According to Kirsch, it is important to talk to a doctor before trying sleep medication.

Rench said she consulted a doctor before taking melatonin.

“I had done a neuropsych exam where they told me that I should start taking melatonin,” said Rench. “And then, I talked to my pediatrician [as well].”

Krystal said it is difficult to predict how long insomnia or trouble sleeping can persist.

“When prescribing drugs, I always plan periodic breaks for my patients’ medications to see if the underlying problem changed,” said Krystal. “Monitoring side effects and dependency [is important].”

Rench plans to bring melatonin to college and see if she still needs to take it, to avoid being dependent on sleep aids.

“[I do not] want to take melatonin for the rest of my life,” said Rench. “Ideally, my sleep schedule will fix itself, and my body will release melatonin on its own.”