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Latest News

A Simple Insomnia Treatment?

by Janis Leibold, assistant editor, Fibromyalgia Network
Posted: March 31, 2011

Sweet sleep is often elusive for people with fibromyalgia. Falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up unrefreshed, or experiencing daytime sleepiness are naturally sources of frustration. However, a treatment trial using an inexpensive supplement combo showed promising results for people with insomnia and this same approach may also be helpful for fibromyalgia.

An effective treatment for sleep can be challenging to find, particularly one that does not leave you feeling hung over in the morning. Medications may help by sedating you, but after you wake up, their effects may persist. Rather than a therapy that works by sedation, it would be more ideal to find a treatment that actually improves the quality and restorative nature of your sleep. Of course, long-term safety is also a concern because the sleep disorder of fibromyalgia is most often persistent and chronic.

A research team in Italy tested a more natural route to treating insomnia.* Using only melatonin, zinc, and magnesium supplements, they enrolled a group of residents in a long-term care facility for the study.

Each of the three supplements selected are substances that the body needs and uses every day. While there are no set quantities for melatonin use, science knows this naturally produced hormone in the brain is closely associated with sleep-wake cycles and diminishes in quantity as we age. Zinc and magnesium are both trace minerals that are needed by the body to make melatonin. In addition, zinc may improve mood, and magnesium is relaxing and calming. Combined, all three of these elements seem to strengthen each other's properties and should lead to better quality of sleep.

Forty-three men and women with insomnia were carefully selected to participate. Since they were elderly, the researchers were meticulous in screening out people with dementia, depression, other sleep disorders, or those on any medication that might alter sleep.

Researchers administered a series of commonly used questionnaires for assessing sleep. In addition, everyone wore armband sensors that measured how much they slept and moved during the day and night. The greater the activity picked up by the sensors during the night, the more the disturbed sleep. The questionnaires were given before and after the eight-week study, while the armbands were worn for 72 hours before the study and the last two weeks of the week study.

Twenty-two participants were given 5 mg of melatonin, 225 mg of magnesium, and 11 mg of zinc in a pear sauce each night before bed for eight weeks. The dose of the magnesium and zinc is just shy of the standard recommended daily allowance as established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The other 21 participants were part of the control group that received only the pear sauce. None of the participants knew whether they were in the test group or the placebo control group.

Patients in the test group reported a 45 percent improvement in their sleep quality, compared to the control group. In addition, benefits were reported in not only quality of sleep, but also mood, ease in getting to sleep, morning alertness, and overall feeling better during the day. The sensor on the armband also measured significant improvements in total sleep time and daytime movement. In contrast, control group members reported no differences in sleep or health at all. Overall, side effects were minimal and none of the participants in either group dropped out of the study.

"These study findings are of great relevance from a clinical point of view," says Mariangela Rondanelli, Ph.D., of the University of Pavia, Italy, and study's lead researcher. "The concept of quality of life is defined as perceived global achievement and satisfaction within a number of key domains, with special emphasis on well-being." Rondanelli says that a larger study will need to be done before more conclusions can be drawn.

While it may seem expected that melatonin could help with sleep, the other benefits may not be as clear, she says. "It is possible that better nighttime sleep quality made participants more alert during the day. Furthermore, improved mood and well-being may have positively influenced the subjective evaluation of daytime sleepiness in the participants."

More information on supplements and health is reported in the article, "Covering the Bases on Nutrition," that appears in the April 2011 issue of the Fibromyalgia Network Journal. A feature article "Setting the Clock Straight on Melatonin" is offered as a free bonus to those receiving the Journal. Join the Fibromyalgia Network to stay abreast with the latest in research, treatments, and coping tips."

* Rondanelli M, et al. JAGS 59:82-90, 2011.

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