People going through treatment for cancer deal with several difficult physical and emotional symptoms, but the one that is especially … Melatonin and CBD have emerged as preferred sleeping aids. But which is better? While the debate of CBD vs melatonin rages, SleepSherpa tries to shed some light on it.
Considering CBD or Melatonin for Sleep? What to Know
People going through treatment for cancer deal with several difficult physical and emotional symptoms, but the one that is especially frustrating is poor sleep. Not sleeping well leaves you with daytime fatigue, irritability and trouble concentrating long enough to get anything done, which is especially upsetting on days that you have off from medical appointments. Being awake in the middle of the night is psychologically difficult given that the quiet of night hours leave little to distract you from worries about your cancer experience and other life stressors.
Given the distress of not sleeping, of course people are going to look for relief. Just one Google search, conversation with a friend, or inquiry about insomnia at the pharmacy will likely bring up the suggestion of using CBD (cannabidiol) or melatonin. Both supplements are widely marketed and promise to help people rest well without the trouble of a prescription. They are both considered “natural” remedies, which appeals to people.
If you’re considering one of these options, the most important thing to know is that since supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration there is no quality control or oversight of these products. In fact, studies have shown that in a high percentage of cases, what is in the supplement is not exactly what is on the label. Supplement contamination with other sedatives or added chemicals to help with shelf life, smell, consistency, etc. may come serious side effects such a lung injury as the recent news about vaping harms demonstrated.
CBD can legally be obtained from the hemp plant (a cousin of the marijuana plant) since the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018. However, regulation of the hemp growing industry is not widely done, and what is sold as CBD may actually have more THC (the psychoactive part of the marijuana plant) than you want, which could cause an abrupt change in thinking which is very anxiety provoking for some people (and not good for sleep!). The CBD products are so new to the market that we have almost no research into whether or not CBD helps insomnia in patients with cancer, or is safe during cancer treatment. Be sure to talk to your oncologist if you are planning to use a CBD supplement.
There has been more use of melatonin in medical care, primarily because it has always been legal, but also because there is research to support the use of melatonin to correct circadian rhythm disorders, situations when people have their days and nights reversed because of jet lag or night shift work. If melatonin is used for insomnia, the recommendation is to take it 2 hours before bed, because the goal is not to feel sleepy right away, but to reset your circadian rhythm, meaning the melatonin in your body gets released at the right time in the day night cycle.
Is it better to take one of these supplements than a prescription sleep aide like Ambien or Lunesta? Supplements still come with side effects (sedation, confusion, falls, and medication interactions), they may be more expensive than prescriptions (so no financial savings) and there is no guarantee “natural” is better. Actually, the best medicine for insomnia is not a medication or supplement at all, but a type of therapy called “cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia” (CBT-I). This therapy, backed by research, is administered by a professional therapist and emphasizes healthy sleep hygiene. If you do not have access to CBT-I therapy, you can still make changes to your sleep hygiene – and improve your sleep – on your own.
For better sleep, set up your daily schedule so that you are primed for restorative rest at night:
- Get out of bed at the same time every single day (alarms are helpful), and let your eyes be exposed to morning light. The morning light will reset the melatonin already in your body.
- If you drink any caffeine, only drink it at breakfast (the half-life is long, it will be in your system at night).
- Get outside and walk daily – exercise is literally medicine for your sleep.
- Schedule time to manage cancer (scheduling appointments, research, bills) early in the day, and no cancer talk after dinner (so you are not thinking about it when you try to sleep).
- Put a paper and pen by the bed, and if you have a worry or question pop up, jot it down, better on the paper than in your head.
- Sleep ina cold, dark, quiet room and turn off all screens at least one hour before bed (the light will disrupt your day night cycle).
Talk to your doctor about your sleep and whether you might need an appointment with a specialist. If your sleep is disrupted by clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, then treating the mood and worry will be the appropriate sleep medicine.
Having cancer is hard enough, and then trying to manage sleep disturbances on top of that does not seem fair. However, the payoff for working on your sleep is so worth it! Feeling rested in the morning makes the day feel like something you can handle. Patients in survivorship have commented that the skills that they developed during cancer treatment are useful long after treatment ends. “I did not want to deal with cancer, but it taught me a lot about really taking care of myself,” “if I pay attention to my sleep habits, my energy is so much better” and “there is no perfect pill for sleep, but I know I will eventually sleep, especially if my days are busy.”
Wendy Baer, MD, is the medical director of psychiatric oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment. Her expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety helps people manage emotions, behaviors and relationships during difficult times.
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CBD vs. Melatonin – Which is a Better Alternative
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Sleep disorders have been on the rise since the past decade or so. It is hard to find people who experience healthy sleep every night or don’t resort to a sleep aid. Because sleep is vital to mental and physical health, the growing incidence of sleep disorders around the world is concerning. Sleep disorders are more common in the US than any other country; the reason why scientists and sleep experts are always trying to find out the causes behind it and possible solutions.
If you are one of those people who has failed to get a good night’s sleep in a long time, you are acutely aware of how sleep disorders can strip your life of joy and peace. When you are sleep deprived sleep deprived, everything becomes harder than usual. You lose your appetite, you are unmotivated to work out, your social and personal commitments suffer, and your productivity at work keeps dropping. In fact, the American economy suffers a loss of millions of dollars every year simply because of workers not getting enough sleep.
Don’t be surprised, because sleep disorders have far-reaching consequences. Sleep deficiency causes daytime sleepiness and drowsiness, causing accidents and injuries. Drowsy driving is one dangerous consequence of sleep deficiency and daytime sleepiness. It is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.
Of course, no person can go without sleep for a long time, and they all reach for some kind of sleep aid at some point. However, the recent FDA warning about conventional sleep medications has led people to look for natural solutions to sleep disorders.
Dangers of Sleep Medication
A large number of people depend on sleep medications for a good night’s rest. Older people have usually prescribed sleep medicines because they are unable to get proper sleep any longer. However, even though in the beginning the medications work as intended, they are harmful in the long run because the user starts to get dependent on them. Most sleeping pill users are unable to sleep again without taking the medication, and the dependence only keeps growing. Most doctors do not hesitate to increase the dosage, but this only adds to the danger.
The FDA has recently called out certain sleep medications for being dangerous and causing injuries and accidents. However, even without the FDA warning, most people have always known about the side effects of conventional sleep medications. They are quick to work, but the chemicals in them are harmful to health and often make sleep disorder worse. Increasing the dosage of the medicine only leads to sleeping pill abuse, some of the most common symptoms of which are:
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty with coordination and focus
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Foggy memory
- Itching and swelling
- Lightheadedness or other vision changes
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Hoarseness of the throat
If sleep medications are continued for a long time, it can lead to other health complications and even death. These fears are not unwarranted because there are a large number of people suffering from the side effects of sleeping pills. Sleeping pills being available over the counter have also contributed to their overuse.
All these fears surrounding sleeping pills have led people to look for natural alternatives. At the moment, there are two natural sleep solutions, one of them proven and the other debatable. They are melatonin and cannabidiol.
Melatonin Supplements for Sleep
Melatonin is the sleep hormone produced by the brain in response to the dark. When the sun begins to set, the body clock tells the brain it’s time to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us relax, makes us feel drowsy and ultimately gets us to sleep. Melatonin is hindered by bright lights and triggered by darkness. That is the reason why sleeping in a dark room is the healthiest.
Imbalances in the production of melatonin are often responsible for sleep disorders. If shunning bright lights don’t work, then a possible remedy is melatonin supplement. This is a natural sleep remedy that has recently started to be administered to insomnia patients. The reason why melatonin supplement has become so popular is that it is not known to have any side effect for it simply replicates the natural melatonin produced by the brain. The melatonin supplement remedies any imbalance and helps the hormone function normally to bring about healthy sleep.
So far melatonin supplements have not been found to cause any adverse side effect. Because this hormone is already produced by the body, melatonin supplements simply aim to correct any shortage or imbalance of the hormone. However, because melatonin supplements tend to work very quickly, the dosage must be appropriate and timed right. Otherwise, the person can feel drowsy well into the next morning.
CBD Oil as Sleep Aid
Another popular sleep solution that is still controversial to some extent is cannabidiol. Also called CBD, this is a natural extract of the hemp plant, and has been hailed to be highly beneficial for a lot of health issues. One of the most popular uses of CBD is in treating insomnia and other sleep disorders. Although the exact connection between CBD and sleep is not yet known sleep experts believe that CBD helps induce sleep by reducing anxiety and stress. If you have stress and anxiety related issues that prevent you from falling or staying asleep at night, CBD can be used as a natural alternative to conventional sleep medications.
However, if your sleep issues are caused by other health problems or hormonal imbalances, then CBD will not be effective. CBD is also highly controversial and not easily available everywhere. Unlike melatonin, CBD has not been proven to be beneficial for sleep disorders and should be consumed only after a consultation with a healthcare practitioner.
Before resorting to a sleep aid, it is recommended that you try making lifestyle changes to deal with sleep disorders. If all else fails, talk to your doctor to adopt the safest possible way to induce sleep and reduce sleep deprivation.