This Natural Sleep Aid Works Even When It's Noisy

Illustrated by Daniel Koppich.
We knew the trusty sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin, was helpful. But, we honestly didn't know it could work this well: New research suggests melatonin will help us fall asleep even in noisy, light-filled environments.

The study, published this week in Critical Care, examined the effects of a few low-cost sleep aids. All 40 participants spent eight nights in a single room designed to replicate the experience of spending a night in a hospital's intensive care unit — complete with random lights and sounds. Then, participants were broken up into four groups: One group got ear plugs and an eye mask, another got melatonin, a third group got a placebo pill, and the last group — poor ol' baseline — got nothing. 

As expected, results showed that the participants who got nothing slept the worst. Those who got the placebo pill slept a little better; those who got ear plugs and eye masks slept better still. But, those who got melatonin spent more time asleep and took less time to fall asleep, despite the less-than-ideal sleeping conditions. Participants in the melatonin condition also reported feeling like they'd gotten better quality sleep than those in the other conditions. 

Because the researchers were looking at an ICU simulation, there are clear real-world applications here for patients who are stuck next to noisy machines in already-stressful hospital scenarios. But, the rest of us can benefit, too. Although not everyone should try taking melatonin, for some of us it might just be the secret to napping anywhere — and who knows what that extra sleep will do for you?
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