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Sleepy teens benefit from melatonin: study

AAP logoAAP 21/10/2016 Sarah Wiedersehn

Teenagers often get a bad wrap for being lazy when they refuse to get out of bed for school because they're 'too tired'.

However for some it's not a bad attitude, it's their body clock that's to blame.

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) is a physiological condition that affects a person's ability to fall a sleep at night and is highly prevalent in adolescents.

Their sleep is also often very disrupted.

Dr Tracey Sletten a research fellow at Monash Univeristy says this is why many teenagers report feeling very tired upon waking, which can go on to affect their academic performance as a result of poor concentration.

She says it can even effect a person's mental health.

Unfortunately, DSPD can often go misdiagnosed as insomnia and strong pharmaceuticals can be prescribed, according to Dr Sletten.

But new Australian research, unveiled at the national sleep conference in Adelaide this week, has found melatonin to be effective in helping those with DSPD get better and more sleep.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that anticipates the daily onset of darkness. For people with DSPD the time sleep-promoting melatonin is produced and secreted is significantly delayed.

Researchers at Monash University, led by Dr Sletten, conducted a randomised controlled trial of more than 100 DSPD sufferers to test the effectiveness of melatonin on their sleep.

More than half of the participants received 0.5mg of melatonin one hour before bed and the other half received a placebo.

They were told to go to bed at their desired time and what the researchers found was that those who took the melatonin were able to fall asleep more rapidly.

On average they fell to sleep 30 minutes earlier compared to the placebo group.

A better quality of sleep was also reported among the melatonin group .

"Quite often they could stay in bed and be tossing and turning and get frustrated for not being able to fall asleep but the melatonin actually assists them with that," said Dr Sletten.

Daytime functioning and behaviour was also significantly improved and postive outcomes were reported by their a treating clinician, said Dr Sletten.

Although the research is yet to be published, Dr Sletten says this was the biggest trial of its kind and hopes the results will lead to melatonin being used more commonly as an alternative intervention.

Many behavioural changes are also required to promote earlier sleep, such as putting away the iPads at night to reduce sleep-disrupting light exposure, Dr Sletten added.

Separate research conducted at Flinders University showing a morning walk is beneficial for teenagers with DSPD was also presented at the The Sleep DownUnder 2016 conference.

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