If you're one of those unfortunate folk who struggle to get to sleep, you'll probably have heard of melatonin, the wonderful hormone that we produce naturally as the day goes on, setting us up for some rejuvenating shut-eye. It regulates our sleep and wake cycles, ensuring we're getting the rest we need. However, sometimes our bodies just don't produce enough of it, especially when we're stressed out or perpetually anxious, at which point cortisol - the stress hormone - takes the driver's seat. Cortisol, you'll be aware, is not your best friend.
Now though, we're learning that melatonin is particularly helpful when it those who are forced to sleep in noisy environments where it's never quite dark enough. In a study that explored low-cost sleep-aids, 40 people were asked to spend eight nights in a single room, designed to replicate the environment of a hospital, for example. There were random lights and disruptive noises - all the things that would pester you as you try to drift off. The groups were split into four. One group were given nothing. These guys had the worst time of it, not sleeping very much or very well at all. The second group were given a placebo pill, these guys slept a little better than those who got nothing, furthermore proving the placebo-effect. The third group were given ear plugs and eye-masks; they slept OK. The final group were given melatonin and slept longer and easier than the rest. They also had significantly less trouble falling asleep, despite the fact that they were dumped into a room that's straight out of a hospital's intensive care unit.
Though melatonin is a natural sleep aid that you can get synthetically made in pill form - but not a 'sleeping pill' as we know it - it requires a prescription here in Ireland. Short term, there have been various studies to support its benefits as a sleeping aid, but as for long term usage, more research needs to be done. Certainly worth a conversation with your GP though if insomnia is wreaking havoc on your life.