Sleeping hormones increase in popularity among students


Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Camerynn Hawke

With a packed course load, homework, extracurricular activities and a social life, many students have few breaks in their day for relaxation. To combat stress, some students have turned to sleeping pills to fall asleep more easily and enable them to relax.

Typical over-the-counter sleep aids include Benadryl, an antihistamine that also causes drowsiness; Melatonin, a naturally secreted hormone; and Valerian, an herb used as a natural sleep aid. Individuals should only take these medications for a short period of time and with a doctor’s permission, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Sleeping aids are popular among students, with nearly 40 percent having used a sleeping aid at some point in their lives, according to a Black & White survey. Many reported taking sleeping aids to help them sleep through the night so they can keep up with their busy schedules.

Junior Samantha Goldberg takes melatonin once or twice a week during the school year to fall asleep faster and to regulate her sleep pattern, which is often disrupted because of homework and extracurriculars, she said.

“I think it does actually work because I can feel myself getting tired to the point where I can’t keep my eyes open any longer,” Goldberg said.

While many students stick to over-the-counter sleep aids, some with more serious sleeping problems such as insomnia have turned to prescription medication. Senior Ben Gorman struggled for years through appointments with sleep specialists, doctors and physcologists before a sleep specialist recommended medication, his mother Stephanie Land said. He finally began using the prescription drug Trazodone during the summer, Gorman said.

“It does work,” Gorman said. “It doesn’t help you fall asleep really, but it does help keep you asleep. I still sometimes wake up but not too often.”

Melatonin is the most commonly used sleeping aid among students; 37.5 percent of students who take a sleep aid use melatonin, according to a Black & White survey.

Melatonin comes in the form of liquid drops, pills and gummies in doses ranging from 0.3-20 mg. The recreation of the naturally produced hormone increases the brain’s concentration of melatonin within 20 minutes of ingestion, ultimately stimulating sleep.

Melatonin is ineffective if excessively high doses are taken, and a dosage of 0.3 mg is the best for maximum sleep, according to two studies from MIT. If a person ingests more than 0.3 mg, it reportedly has the adverse effect of delaying the onset of sleep. Most individual pills, however, contain up to 20 times that amount, according to the studies.

Elliott Alpher, a doctor at The Alpher Center for Sleep Disorders and Jaw Pain, strongly believes that students shouldn’t take sleeping pills unless recommended by a doctor. While melatonin could be a safe short-term solution because of its natural presence in the body, it does have negative side effects, he said.

“As a sleep specialist, I do not recommend sleeping pills as most don’t realize they are addicted until it’s too late,” Alpher said. “I have been able to treat many sleep disorders without the use of drugs or surgery.”

In order to sleep without the use of drugs, Alpher recommends reducing exposure to electronics before going to sleep, exercising throughout the day and meditating before bed.

Still, these studies haven’t deterred some students from using it to fall asleep after busy days.

“I fall asleep way faster, in about 30 minutes to an hour after I take [melatonin],” freshman Ottavia Personeni said. “Without it, I fall asleep way later and sleep worse during the night.”