Sleep plays a fundamental role in overall good health and well being in our lives. While we sleep, our body works to support healthy brain function and maintain our physical health. Without quality sleep, our bodies, concentration and moods suffer.
Last summer my rheumatologist put me on a low dose (10mg) of Amitriptyline and I was finally able to sleep without waking up fifty times in the night. After a few days the pain in my small joints went away and I felt a marked shift that I couldn’t quite articulate. But like all good things, I had to stop taking it because of the unbearable constipation that was not responding to any of my usual helpers. Very quickly, the arthritic like pain came back and my sleep was once again restless, so I decided to give it another try. Nope, the good effects weren’t there and the bad effects still were.
What I learned from my experience with Amitriptyline was the power of sleep. I hadn’t realized how bad my sleep had gotten over the years until I got a good nights rest. So I went on a mission to find an alternative and discovered Melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. Melatonin levels naturally decrease in the body as we age. Because it can be found naturally in foods, it is not regulated by the FDA and is available over-the-counter here in the states. Here is an informative link from the University of Maryland’s Medical Center: Melatonin.
I ended up doing a lot of research on it because there seemed to be much conflicting information out there about the use of melatonin and fibromyalgia. I did read that it can make some inflammatory and autoimmune diseases worse, which might be the basis of the confusion. Fibromyalgia, by itself, is not an inflammatory disease (according to my rheumatologist). Nor is it an autoimmune disorder, but it can often coexist with autoimmune diseases and inflammation. So if you have fibromyalgia with RA or Lupus, for example, then you should avoid it. For me, my lab results (both blood and sonogram) showed no signs of inflammation or autoimmune (ANA) issues. Conversely, there are also studies out there showing that melatonin actually helps with fibromyalgia pain. So I decided to try it.
I read that you should start off with a smaller dose and work your way up, so instead of buying the 10mg tablets, I went with the 3mg. Melatonin is very inexpensive, $8 covers me for 120 days. You can buy it in tablet form, dissolving tabs or liquid form. I take it about an hour or two before bed, with magnesium and zinc.
It started working immediately, sleep was deep and there was much less tossing and turning throughout the night. I felt refreshed after waking up and the pain in my small joints disappeared again. Like the Amitriptyline, it is not a sleep inducer, it does it’s magic after you have fallen asleep, but unlike it, there were no noticeable side effects. I have been taking it for four months now and have not increased my dosage, 3mg is still working well. I still have the occasional restless night, but they are few and far between and can be managed with a little valerian tea.
At this point, my only real concern is that there have been no studies to determine the safety of long term use of melatonin. And while I don’t feel or notice any side effects, it is hard to say how it is affecting the unseen world of my hormones. But I am hesitant to stop taking it because honestly, that small joint pain was torturous. Now it only appears during the worst days of a flare. And there is also that shift that is hard to articulate that comes from good sleep. It is like an aroma or buffer around you, that keeps you in touch with yourself. The self that remains at your core and isn’t changed by chronic illness.
Do you have sleep issues related to your fibromyalgia or other chronic illness? How do you manage it?
Disclaimer: This is only my experience, not medical advice. I am not a doctor and I am in no way stating that you should take melatonin without doing your own research and/or talking with your healthcare practitioner.