Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy and Melatonin – Yes? No? Or Maybe So? | October 20, 2021

Most of us are familiar with melatonin and it’s purpose: To help you sleep. Or at least to help you get to sleep.

In fact, melatonin is one of the most commonly used supplements in the United States. (Lots of sleepless people out there!)

Scientifically speaking, melatonin is a hormone synthesized from serotonin, the “feel good” hormone.

It’s secreted from the pineal gland (a pea-sized gland, near the center of your brain) over an exact 24-hour cycle.

This cycle is an important part of our circadian rhythm, the system that regulates numerous body functions over a twenty-four hour cycle, the most obvious of which is the sleep / wake cycle.

Around bedtime, melatonin rises, so you feel sleepy. Then the secretion of melatonin falls during the night, and by morning, levels are low.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But we haven’t introduced the epilepsy wild card. That’s where the yes…no…and maybe so…come in.

Why all the controversy?

Because no one really wants to take up the gauntlet.

You can’t patent melatonin (remember, it’s a natural hormone), therefore BIG Pharma has nothing to gain.

As a result, clinical trials are few and far between.

But some brave souls have tried. Read the outcomes, (confusing though they may be).

YES.

It’s obvious why melatonin is important in epilepsy.

Because inadequate sleep contributes to drowsiness during the day, memory problems and intractable seizures.

The longer you go without adequate sleep, the greater your chances of increased or worsening seizures.

And epilepsy itself, or the antiepileptic drugs used to control epilepsy, may result in decreased melatonin levels, according to the results of a study published in the “Medical Science Monitor,” an international medical journal focusing on clinical and experimental research.

Here’s the good news: A pilot study was done to investigate melatonin’s effectiveness for treating sleep / wake cycle disturbances and the ability to decrease epileptic seizure frequency, with no long term side-effects.

The 10 patients were aged 9 to 32 years old and had intractable epilepsy.

Patients were randomized to receive melatonin (10 mg daily at bedtime) followed by a placebo or a placebo followed by melatonin for 3 weeks each, with a 1-week washout period in between.

Seizure frequency was monitored by daily diaries, recordings and behavior and sleep patterns were rated by caregivers.

Daytime seizures decreased significantly with melatonin compared with the placebo. 

No major side-effects or seizure aggravation was documented.

The scientists concluded that melatonin could be effective and safe for decreasing daytime seizure frequency in patients with intractable epilepsy.

Moreover, melatonin could significantly reduce your dose of antiepileptic drugs, and reduce their side-effects.

And it can be a potential adjunct to antiepileptic drugs, achieving a therapeutic effect at lower concentrations, therefore limiting their dose-related toxicities.

Also, melatonin supplements can have a direct anticonvulsant effect on photosensitive epilepsy and partial epilepsy. 

But without clinical trials, the actual usefulness of melatonin to treat seizures independently of its beneficial sleep effects, is unknown.

NO.

Melatonin has been reported to inhibit antiepileptic properties in clinical trials.

But, recent animal studies have demonstrated that melatonin can have the opposite effect on brain function, depending on the dose and timing of melatonin administration.

(You knew there had to be a “but.”)

In other words, while high pharmacological doses are able to decrease brain excitability and suppress seizures, smaller doses of melatonin (administered at night when melatonin levels in the brain are highest), can actually increase the excitability of neurons, making them more susceptible to seizure activity.

This process may be involved with certain forms of nocturnal epilepsy.

Thus, seizures can be a side-effect of melatonin.

And the relatively high doses of melatonin required to inhibit experimental seizures can also induce cognitive and motor impairments and decreased body temperature.

In addition, melatonin has been shown to cause EEG abnormalities in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy and increase seizure activity in neurologically disabled children.

The good news is that the hormone showed very low toxicity in clinical practice.

The reported adverse effects (sleep disorders, nightmares and hypotension) were rare and mild.

However, more placebo-controlled, double-blind randomized clinical trials are needed to establish the usefulness of melatonin in the adjunctive treatment of epilepsy.

MAYBE SO.

The role of melatonin in seizure disorders is controversial.

And so is the research. (That’s an understatement!)

Some researchers have suggested that melatonin may lower seizure threshold and increase the risk of seizures, particularly in children with severe neurological disorders.

But then, multiple other studies actually report reduced seizures with regular melatonin use.

So you can see why it’s (very) confusing.

Side-effects of melatonin treatments in children haven’t yet been reported.

And although test results are promising, once again, specific studies to resolve the problems of dosage, formulation, (slow or fast release) and length of treatment are necessary.

I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but it seems like nobody really gives a hoot about melatonin, except a small number of researchers and those of us who take it.

While it’s clear that it can’t and won’t replace our AEDs, it’s sure nice to get a good night’s sleep.

And if it’s friendly to your body chemistry and meds, without side-effects, that’s good news.

But before you buy and try, speak to your doc to see if melatonin might help or harm (or have no effect) on your AEDs and seizure activity.

Just because it works for me, doesn’t mean it’s the right answer for you.

But I sure hope it can help. 

Because as far as I’m concerned, it’s a dream come true!

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Resources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-melatonin/art-20363071

https://www.healthline.com/health/melatonin-and-epilepsy

https://www.nestmaven.com/sleep/health-benefits-melatonin/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/440335-melatonin-for-seizures/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21441606

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03590197

https://www.verywellhealth.com/melatonin-benefits-uses-tips-and-more-89808

http://www.livestrong.com/article/517126-epilepsy-melatonin/

http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijped/2011/892624/

https://www.healthline.com/health/melatonin-and-epilepsyhttps://10faq.com/health/melatonin-side-effects/?utm_source=google&utm_campaign=701-717-3049-1362493182&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=57235675351&utm_term=%2Bmelatonin&gclid=Cj0KCQjwtrSLBhCLARIsACh6RmiR_XZEk3OS6LwC25aS3OKxUOXz82BQgJuZREMtwrZEL0lGucofbzIaAv3gEALw_wcB


5 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Ken's Devotions.

    Like

    Comment by Kenneth — October 20, 2021 @ 12:12 PM

  2. Many thanks for the interesting pros and cons of melatonin. When I took a relatively low dose at night, I found that I had a greater likelihood of toxicity from my morning AEDs. Specifically, I often would get dizzy and have to lie down for a few hours. I’ve stopped taking it in favor zalepron (Sonesta), a short-acting sleeping pill that aids in falling but not staying asleep. Dr. Sassower, a neurologist who specializes in both sleep and epilepsy at Mass General, prescribed it to me after a sleep study. Caveat: This is just my case and in no way a recommendation to others. Again, thanks for the article!

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by shedlightonepilepsy — October 20, 2021 @ 1:12 PM

  3. I’m so sorry you had such a horrid reaction. But I’m glad you were savvy enough to get a sleep study and be proactive.

    As you said: one size does not fit all. But thanks for sharing your experience. And I hope the Sonesta continues to work for you.

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 20, 2021 @ 2:11 PM

  4. I have this problem solved, when i smoke cannabis i’ll have no problem falling asleep. Normally i hit the sack around 9pm or 9:30 when the yawning starts. I’ll sleep till 5am or 5:30ish. If i take a nap during the day, that can mess up my night sleep. A good habit of starting to sleep at the same time each night helps the pineal gland to predict when to send the melatonin to the brain. Another good way to get good sleep is to be physically tired when sleep time comes, by being active and physical during the day, ie working ur muscle groups. On days like that i don’t need anything to fall asleep. I’ve heard a cup of red wine helps some, but i don’t think alcohol helps when it comes to quality of sleep. Nothing better than a good night sleep to keep on on top of his/her game!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Zolt — October 21, 2021 @ 1:57 PM

  5. Great advice about “sleep hygiene”.

    This may sound crazy, but I start with Melatonin and then eat a BANANA in the middle of the night, when I can’t seep!

    (At least research is on my side!)

    “Bananas are an excellent source of magnesium and potassium which help relax overstressed muscles and make them an ideal go-to snack before bed.

    They also contain all-important tryptophan to stimulate production of those key brain calming hormones.

    Eat whole or whizz into a sleep-inducing smoothie.” https://thesleepcharity.org.uk/information-support/adults/sleep-hub/foods-that-help-you-sleep/

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 21, 2021 @ 2:08 PM


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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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