Are you one of the nearly two thirds, or 16-million, UK adults experiencing sleeping problems? Almost a quarter of all UK adults struggle to get more than five hours of sleep a night.
The "Iron Lady," Margaret Thatcher was infamous for sleeping only three hours a night and managing to cope with running the UK. However, most of us feel like walking zombies the following day if we don't get our shuteye.
Just under half of all UK adults state, they don't get sufficient sleep, with sleeping problems being more common in women than in men. More than a quarter of UK adults admit they would like to improve their sleep, but less than half state they don't take any action to help them sleep better.
Around one in ten UK adults use prescription medication to help them get to sleep, and many admit to using alcohol to help them drift off at night. These practices aren't ideal and can result in dependency or abuse of medications and alcohol.
If you're dealing with insomnia that lasts more than a night or two, you might have a physiological or psychological disorder affecting the brain's ability to fall asleep. The "circadian rhythm" provides the foundation of the sleeping and waking cycle.
People that have dysfunctional circadian rhythms due to disturbances in their sleeping habits will typically recover in a day or two. A great example of this phenomenon is how jet lag influences the circadian rhythm, preventing the traveller from falling asleep at an appropriate time in their new time zone.
Fortunately, there are supplements and medications designed to alleviate the frustration of sleeping disorders. This post unpacks the difference between two of the most popular supplement options for initiating sleep – melatonin and cannabidiol (CBD).
What are the Treatments for Sleeping Disorders?
If you're having problems with getting to sleep, you're in one of two camps. Either you are just having a rough couple of nights due to something like the onset of jetlag, or you have a serious disorder, like insomnia.
People with sleeping disorders have one of two choices for sleeping aids to assist with them dropping off at night.
Those individuals with chronic sleeping problems, such as insomnia or severely broken sleep may require pharmaceuticals to assist them with falling asleep. These individuals may be dealing with psychological issues like anxiety or high amounts of stress, disrupting adrenaline and cortisol production.
These individuals require medical treatment and monitoring of their condition to help them sleep. Doctors will prescribe medications to assist the brain with managing the sleep/wake cycle. Drugs like Zopiclone and Ambien are potent sleep aids, and they are only available through your physicians prescription.
Unfortunately, while effective, these drugs are severely habit-forming. Many individuals state they can no longer get to sleep by themselves after extended use of these drugs. If you're under 50-years old, getting addicted to Z-drugs for sleep can ruin your life, requiring months of rehabilitation.
Never self-prescribe sleeping drugs or purchase them on the black market. Medications should only ever be used under the guidance of a medical professional.
The second category of people with sleeping disorders are individuals that have a rough night from time to time. These people may find they experience broken sleep a few nights a week, or it takes them a lot longer to fall asleep than other people.
These individuals often also have sleeping problems due to a stressful work or home environment. However, they are not in the same boat as those people with chronic sleeping disorders. So, there's no need for prescription medications to help you get over that case of jet lag.
If you have problems with getting to sleep from time to time, then you can use over-the-counter (OTC) supplements to help you cope with your sleep disturbance. OTC supplements don't require a prescription, and they are readily available at your local health store or supplement shop.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland is a small, pine cone-shaped gland found deep in the brain.
This gland is responsible for secreting “melatonin” (along with other chemicals like N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) which is the precursor hormone-producing a state of “quiet wakefulness,” preparing the body for the sleep cycle.
The onset of darkness at night signals the pineal gland to secrete melatonin, and light causes it to stop producing the hormone. After the pineal gland releases melatonin into the cerebrospinal fluid and bloodstream, the hormone binds to receptors in the brain’s “suprachiasmatic nuclei.” This nerve cluster regulates the internal body clock managing the circadian rhythm.
Therefore, melatonin helps regulate the circadian rhythm, synchronizing or sleep and waking cycle with the day and night. Individuals using melatonin as a sleep aid have an easier time falling asleep and achieving better quality sleep.
Melatonin produced by the pineal gland is “exogenous,” meaning that it comes from within the body. However, melatonin supplements provide an “exogenous” source of the hormone, and it’s becoming a popular sleep aid for many people struggling to fall asleep.
Most people will produce enough melatonin by themselves to govern the sleeping cycle. However, individuals living with high levels of stress and anxiety may find that they don’t make enough of it to overcome the cortisol in their bodies, keeping them awake.
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, secreting adrenaline-like hormones. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone of the body, secreted by the adrenal glands when we experience stress. Cortisol initiates the “fight-or-flight” response in the body, keeping you on edge and aware of your surroundings.
Our ancestors would benefit from this response if they encountered a lion in the wild. The fight-or-flight response kicks in and then diminishes when we remove the threat. However, modern life in the concrete jungle produces a very different effect on the fight-or-flight response.
The pressures of bills, work, social life, and family can feel overwhelming at times. As a result, the body finds itself in a constant fight-or-flight state, and cortisol production remains elevated instead of dissipating over time.
When you have too many adrenaline-like hormones floating in your bloodstream, it’s no wonder you’re having a hard time getting to sleep. The cortisol running through your veins overpowers the melatonin, and insomnia starts in the affected individual.
So, to combat this scenario, we introduce exogenous melatonin to the body to help initiate sleep. Melatonin levels rise for the first two hours after dark and then stabilize throughout the night. Therefore, by increasing the bioavailable melatonin in your body during this time, you can assist your body and brain with initiating the sleeping cycle.
Melatonin Supplements for Sleep
Melatonin supplements are gaining popularity in the US and the United Kingdom as a sleep aid alternative to the more habit-forming “Z-drugs” like Zopiclone and Ambien. Even people that usually find they have no issues with falling asleep may have a rough night from time to time.
If you find it challenging to get to sleep for two nights in a row, then melatonin presents a viable option to help initiate sleep and get you the rest you need. There’s convincing research showing that melatonin use can assist with helping people with delayed sleep phase syndrome— when they struggle to fall asleep and to wake up the following day.
Melatonin helps the body recognise the natural cycle of wakefulness, timing your circadian rhythms with your natural release of melatonin. Typically, users will take around one to three milligrams of melatonin around two hours before they retire to bed.
It’s important to note that melatonin is not a guarantee of a restful night; some people respond better to the supplemental use of the hormone than others. If you’re not seeing any benefit from using melatonin after ten days, you might have a chronic sleeping disorder requiring medical attention.
If that’s the case for you, consult with your doctor about the best course of action to help you get some sleep.
However, if the melatonin supplement does show benefits to your sleep, it’s important to note that you can’t stay on it indefinitely. Exogenous melatonin use will eventually reach a point where you start to experience “diminishing returns.”
After around four weeks on the supplement, the receptors binding to the melatonin hormone become saturated. As a result, you notice you need a higher dose to see the same effect with your supplement.
As a result, many people keep using their supplements, increasing the dose. Unfortunately, they also start to see a notable increase in side effects. The user may feel tired and groggy the next day, with brain fog clouding their thinking and decision-making.
If you reach the point of diminishing returns, you’ll have to take about four weeks off of the supplement to clear out the receptors before starting the use of your supplement again.
When using melatonin, it’s important to note that the hormone doesn’t initiate sleep directly, like with Z-drugs. Instead, it “prepares your terrain” for sleep, creating the right biological environment for your brain and body to transition from awake to asleep.
It’s also important to note that pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid the use of melatonin. Melatonin is also not suitable for use in individuals with auto-immune disorders, as it may spark an attack. People dealing with depression should also avoid the use of melatonin supplements.
So, it’s established science that melatonin can assist the body and brain with falling asleep, preparing you for the transition between the circadian rhythm.
Melatonin Use in Adults
Adult Use of Melatonin
Melatonin use in adults is ideal for helping problem deal with managing the effects of jet lag and Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD). People affected by DSWPD experience dysfunction of the circadian rhythm, making it harder for the person to fall asleep and wake up.
This disorder typically occurs in people that work shifts at their job. Even slight changes of a few hours to your normal day can cause the onset of DSWPD. People living the night-owl lifestyle may have difficulty getting the sleep they need in the face of their other commitments, resulting in DSWPD.
Some studies show that using one to three milligrams of melatonin two hours before sleep can help affected individuals overcome the effects of DSWPD.
When travellers move across time zones, the internal body clock gets out of alignment with their time zone. As a result, it may take the traveller a few days to adjust to a new sleeping cycle. Unfortunately, during the transitory phase, the individual will feel fatigued, with brain fog and confusion clouding their thinking.
Research shows that consuming one to three grams of melatonin two hours before bedtime can help the brain and circadian rhythms adjust faster to the new time zone and sleep/wake cycle.
There is extensive debate about whether melatonin is suitable for treating people with insomnia. There is no conclusive evidence making a case that the hormone is effective in overcoming the problem in the affected individual.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, visit your doctor for a consultation. Your physician will likely suggest you try using melatonin to see if it has an effect. If you don’t succeed with it, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you get the rest you need.
Melatonin Use in Children
Most doctors will avoid prescribing melatonin to children unless they are dealing with a severe sleeping problem. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), melatonin might benefit kids as a short-term sleeping aid, helping them establish the right sleeping habits.
Some research shows that melatonin use may be beneficial in helping children with autism and epilepsy that have problems with falling asleep. However, it’s important to note that there is a growing body of evidence, supported by members of the medical community, stating that melatonin is not suitable for use in children.
Always consult with your doctor before giving your child any form of supplement.
What are the Types of Melatonin Supplements?
Melatonin is available in a range of supplement products. You have options for gummies, tablets, and pills from several brands. However, your doctor will prescribe you the option they think is best for managing your condition.
Typically, Melatonin supplements come in 1-mg to 3-mg doses, with the 3-mg products being in the higher range.
What is the Legal Status of Melatonin in the UK?
Now for the bad news. Melatonin is not available as an OTC supplement in the United Kingdom. While it’s not illegal, it’s only available via doctor’s prescription. The use of melatonin off-script is unlawful, and you won’t find it for sale online or in supplement stores.
The Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in 1995. Up until this date, you could purchase melatonin without a script at the pharmacy. However, the reclassification of melatonin made it only available through your doctor, and for a good reason.
The Downside – Melatonin Dependency
First isolated by Dr Aaron B. Lerner in 1958, Melatonin appeared in supplements in the eighties and nineties, becoming a smash overnight success in the US and the UK. While melatonin is available OTC in the US, the UK only offers it to patients by prescription.
The lack of regulation around the supplement industry and melatonin production meant that melatonin supplements were not available as a standard format from all brands. Before banning melatonin on the high street, one could find it for sale in a pharmacy in varying dosages.
While one to three milligrams are more than sufficient for initiating the sleep response, there were plenty of products two to three times that recommended amount. The inventor of the melatonin supplement, Dr Richard Wurtma, displays his dismay at the lack of market regulation and the misuse of melatonin sleep aids.
During the nineties in the UK, shift workers would pop melatonin without thinking twice, parents would hand it to their kids without any concern, and people would take large doses without a second thought for their health.
However, those people thinking about using melatonin should heed Dr, Wurtma's warning. As the inventor of the melatonin sleep aid, he sternly warns that "It won't kill you, but it'll make your life pretty miserable."
That's quite a shocking statement from the physician who brought the compound to market as a sleep aid. So, what's the deal with melatonin, and how could it possibly make your life miserable if it's a naturally occurring hormone in the human body?
The primary problem with melatonin is its hormonal implications on the endocrine system. As mentioned, this hormone attaches to receptors in the body. When people start using melatonin long-term, they'll eventually reach the point of diminishing returns discussed earlier in this post.
As a result, they increase their dose, and that's where things start to go wrong for the user. When you increase the dose because the effect is wearing off, you also bump up the side effects. As a result, users may start to feel a noticeable impact on their alertness and well-being during the daytime.
That's particularly hazardous if you work in a shift environment in construction, where feeling asleep on the job could result in a nasty workplace injury. To counteract the sluggish side effects of melatonin, users might start misusing other compounds or drugs to help them stay awake during the day.
Long-term use of melatonin isn't a good idea. Research shows that receptors reach saturation at around seven to eight weeks of use, and that's when the diminishing returns set in. Beyond that issue, the long term use of the hormone can lead to the atrophy of natural melatonin production by the pineal gland.
The brain and body are efficient systems, and when they detect you constantly loading it up with melatonin, there's no need for the pineal gland to waste the energy to produce it.
As a result, when people finally cease their use of melatonin, they end up experiencing bad sleep quality or insomnia as the brain struggles to recover its natural production of the hormone.
Follow Dr, Wurtmans advice, "With some hormones, if you take too much, you can really put your body in danger." It turns out that all the companies marketing supplements say melatonin has no side effects. However, according to research, it's common for users to experience next-day drowsiness.
Studies suggest melatonin use in children can affect puberty, impede hormonal development, and disrupt the menstrual cycle. These are all serious considerations for your health, and it's no wonder that melatonin got taken off the shelves in Britain.
Finally, the most disturbing part of melatonin use is the dependency it causes in some users. If you’re having a hard time getting to sleep and get relief from melatonin, you’re likely to keep using it, even in the face of diminishing returns.
The thought of not being able to sleep at night is psychologically scarring, and many people extend their melatonin use for too long, resulting in the onset of diminishing returns and the side effects discussed.
Is There a Safe Melatonin Alternative?
So, given the risks with melatonin use, is there a safer alternative sleep aid? Cannabidiol (CBD) presents you with an interesting option.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is receiving a lot of media coverage, with many touting it as a miracle supplement. CBD has potent anti-inflammatory properties on your physiology, from adding it to your pre-workout smoothie to rubbing it on sore muscles.
Before we go further, it's important to understand that CBD is not cannabis. CBD comes from the hemp plant, a distant cousin of the "marijuana" plant. Cannabis is well-known for its psychoactive properties when smoked, vaped, or consumed.
Cannabis gets its psychoactive properties from "THC." Specifically, "Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol" is the primary psychoactive compound in the plant, but you won't find it in the hemp plant. As a result, you can use as much CBD as you like, and it won't get you "high."
The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD are what's causing the hype around the compound in media. The reduction in systemic inflammation occurs throughout all systems in the body. CBD helps to reduce muscular, digestive, neurological, and skeletal inflammation.
Remember we talked about cortisol earlier? Well, cortisol is a primary inflammatory hormone causing unrest in your body. By consuming CBD, you reduce systemic inflammation and the production of cortisol, limiting or doing away with the fight or flight response causing your sleeping problem, makes sense, right?
CBD acts on your physiology through the "endocannabinoid system" (ECS).
The ECS is a collection of endogenous cannabinoid receptors found in peripheral and central nervous systems. The ECS consists of neuromodulator lipids and receptors.
The two main types of receptors, CB1 and CB2, are in mammals' central nervous systems and brains. Typically, CB1 receptors are in the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are in the peripheral nervous system.
The body naturally produces 2AG, which docks with the receptors, increasing the feeling of well-being while creating the mechanism for the anti-inflammatory response. That means that mammals have a natural relationship with CBD and the hemp plant that goes back to the beginning of our evolution.
However, unlike the hormonal effect of melatonin that disrupts our natural melatonin production, you don't have to worry about diminishing returns when using CBD products as sleeping aids.
Despite the amazing relationship between health, the endocrine system, and the endocannabinoid system, it's still missing from medical school textbooks.
Is CBD Legal in the UK?
It's easy to assume that CBD must be illegal in the UK, thanks to its distant relationship to cannabis. However, that's not the case. The UK doesn't view CBD as the same thing as cannabis. The UK health authorities register CBD as a "dietary supplement."
As a result, you can purchase CBD products over the counter and online, legally in the UK. It's important to note that selling CBD products made outside of the UK on UK soil is legal, provided that these supplements don't contain any THC or CBN. The government sets the absolute threshold for CBD products at concentrations of 0.03% or lower.
How CBD Works to Improve Your Sleep
The research on CBD and its effects on the body are still new, and there's new research coming out about the compound every year. Recent research shows that it's a good treatment for anxiety and stress.
As mentioned, the potent anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol help reduce systemic inflammation and cortisol output, reducing stress and the fight or flight response.
Some research shows that a study of 72 patients, 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 experiencing bad sleep, resolved the sleeping problems in 67% of people using 25mg of CBD each day. It's also important to note that 80% of participants reported they felt lower levels of anxiety.
There's also a significant amount o0f evidence showing CBD can assist with pain relief. People who deal with chronic pain have a hard time falling asleep. CBD offers a safe alternative to opioid medications for the treatment of chronic pain.
It's also important to note that CBD is safe for use in adults and children, with no harmful side effects and no issues with dependency. CBD is non-addictive and is not habit-forming in any manner. Comparing it to the risk involved with melatonin and Z-drug use, it's a natural alternative that belongs in your medicine cabinet.
CBD Supplements for Sleep
There is a range of CBD supplements available. However, it's important to go with a premium brand, like Patch Adam, for your CBD Products.
The critical part about assessing a supplement company when ordering your CBD is that it offers you third party testing of its products. Since CBD is still an unregulated market, there's no way for you to ascertain the purity of the product you buy without third party testing.
The best supplement companies, like Patch Adams, display their third-party testing results of every batch of CBD they use. You can find the information on their website to check that you're getting the purest CBD possible, with no contaminants.
We recommend Patch Adam gummies as the best natural sleep aid available.
Patch Adam uses high-quality extraction methods using no hydrocarbons in the process. They test every batch using HPLC and convergent chromatography to assess the CBD content.
Each gummy comes with 10mg or 20 mg (your choice) of organically grown hemp, extracted into full-spectrum CBD, and you get 25 gummies in a tub.
The gummies are available in sweet fruity flavours, and they're a great way to get your daily dose of inflammation-fighting CBD. All you need is one or two gummies a few hours before you go to bed, and you'll have the best night of your life.
Patch Adam CBD gummies are completely legal and regulated and a safe alternative to habit-forming melatonin and Z-drugs. Patch Adams even offers you a money-back guarantee if the gummies don't help improve your sleep within 30-days – give it a try; it's a risk-free deal for your wallet and your health.
Wrapping Up – Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
While introducing CBD gummies to your sleeping routine is a great start to improving your sleep quality, we suggest you combine it with a proper sleep hygiene protocol. What is sleep hygiene? It’s the things you do in the 90-minutes before you retire to bed, ensuring that you have the best chance of falling asleep.
Dr Matthew Walker is the world’s leading authority on sleep. He recommends that you cut your screen time off for the day at least two hours before bedtime. It’s better to read a book than stare at the blue light coming from your phone.
The light from the phone disrupts the circadian rhythm, confusing your brain into thinking that it's still light outside. By stopping screen time before bed, you allow for the natural production of melatonin to start.
Don’t drink any fluids like tea at least two hours before bedtime to prevent you from getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Take a hot bath 45-minutes before bed and spend the last thirty minutes breathing and meditating before you decide to retire for the evening.
Adding these tips to your sleep hygiene, along with your Patch Adams CBD gummies, ensures you get the restful night you deserve.