Students Succumb to Sleep Aids

Students Succumb to Sleep Aids


Melatonin help students sleep at night after a stressful day at school

Since she began taking Melatonin, junior Ma­dalene Danklef has kept a journal to remember all of her dreams. The most recent one? A dream in which every­body’s head and feet switched positions.

“Whenever I take Melato­nin, I have super vivid crazy dreams,” Danklef explained. “Usually they’re really life­like—different dreams than what I’d dream without taking Melatonin.”

Such side effects might lead you to think that Mela­tonin invokes hallucinations. However, it doesn’t.

Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the brain, peaking during nighttime hours. The hormone creates changes in the body— such as a decrease in body tem­perature and respiration rate— which induce sleep.

According to Erika Her­ridge, the Director of Health Services at Hockaday, the hor­mone is helpful for those (espe­cially teenagers) who have got­ten out of their sleeping cycle. She explained how lack of sleep can never be replaced.

“I don’t think [the girls] re­alize how it affects every other part of your body,” Herridge said. “Without sleep, your brain stops functioning, and at a cer­tain point you stop retaining information.”

Danklef, who began taking Melatonin in October of junior year, attested to the benefits of the sleep supplement.

“My sleep pattern over this year has evolved that I can’t go to sleep until 11 at the earli­est—mostly it’s 12:30 though,” Danklef said, “I have to stay up to finish homework, but once I’m done, I take Melatonin and fall right asleep.”

(At this point in the inter­view, a group of three juniors walked by and overheard us talking about Melatonin. In complete agreement, they add­ed “We love Melatonin!”)

Danklef finished her thought, “In the morning, I feel so refreshed! Even if I got three hours of sleep, I still feel like I got a full 12 hours.”

Although Hockaday juniors may be stressed-out and sleep-deprived, there is not a drastic difference between the number of junior users compared to the Upper School in general. A Jan­uary survey revealed that five percent of juniors take Melato­nin every night, which is com­mensurate to the four percent of Upper Schoolers who take it every night.

The infirmary does see a lot of juniors, but Herridge admits she isn’t surprised that there isn’t a huge difference be­tween grades.

“Juniors don’t want to go to bed,” Herridge said, “They want to stay up and study. They might take it after they’ve been up for several days.”

The similar percentages may also be due to some of the side effects various juniors have been experiencing with Melatonin.

“When I wake up in the morning after taking Melato­nin, I’m really tired and cranky,” junior Morgan Allen said.

They still take the sleep­ing drug to fall asleep quicker. “I’ve always had trouble falling asleep,” said Lau­ren Kim, who feels groggy the morning after taking Mela­tonin. “So when I don’t take it, it takes longer. Melato­nin just makes it quicker.”

According to the National Library of Med­icine’s website, it can cause some side ef­fects including h e a d a c h e , short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness and stomach cramps. But is there harm in using synthe­sized Melatonin? Allen doesn’t think so.

“I don’t see any harm in taking Melatonin,” she said. “I was told it was very natural so I hope there isn’t any harm!”

Herridge confirmed Al­len’s beliefs. “Melatonin is safe,” Herridge said, “It can make you a little drowsy, so I wouldn’t recommend going out and driving after taking it. And you’re not going to become ad­dicted like other sleep aids.”

The National Sleep Foun­dation advises against taking Melatonin at the wrong time of day, since it can lead to a reset in one’s biological clock, caus­ing the user to take the hor­mone even more often.

Another concern exists that is not as widely recog­nized by users. According to the NSF’s website, because Melatonin is categorized as a hormone rather than a drug, the FDA is not al­lowed to regulate it.

“Taking a typical dose (1 to 3 mg) may elevate your blood melatonin lev­els to 1 to 20 times normal. Side effects do not have to be listed on the product’s pack­aging,” the NSF said.

Dr. Leon Rosenthal, who specializes in Sleep Disorders Medicine in Dal­las, still believes some people can benefit from it. “The best candidates are likely blind people on whom the product might help regulate their circadian rhythm,” he said. “Also, people with a condi­tion called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder would likely benefit the most from Melatonin. It would also be considered a proper intervention for jetlag.”

Overall, the NSF recom­mends that one should find a sleep professional or consult a physician before taking Mela­tonin to understand the cause of the sleep problem and treat it appropriately.

However, until another alternative has been proven to be as effective as Melato­nin, Danklef said that weird dreams are a small price to pay for the enormous amount of sleep she makes up using the hormone.

– Elie McAdams