Patients who take high blood pressure medication often have trouble sleeping.

It’s three in the morning and you’re wide awake.  If you’re taking a medication known as a beta-blocker, you may find this happens more often than you’d like.

Over 20 million people in the United States take beta-blockers, a medication commonly prescribed for cardiovascular issues, anxiety, hypertension (high blood pressure), and more. Many of these same people also have trouble sleeping.  Beta-blockers are known to block the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s sleep cycles.  Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found that giving patients melatonin supplements at night improved sleep in patients taking beta-blockers.

“Beta-blockers have long been associated with sleep disturbances, yet until now, there have been no clinical studies that tested whether melatonin supplementation can improve sleep in these patients,” explained Frank Scheer, PhD, MSc, an associate neuroscientist at BWH, and principal investigator on this study. “We found that melatonin supplements significantly improved sleep.”

The research team analyzed 16 patients who regularly took beta-blockers as treatment for high blood pressure. The study subjects were given either a melatonin supplement or placebo before bed each night; neither the subjects nor the researchers knew which pill the patients were taking.

Analyzing the subjects’ sleep patterns, researchers found, on average, that subjects who received the melatonin supplement slept 37 minutes longer compared to those who received a placebo.  Patients taking melatonin also spent more time in Stage 2 sleep, the most prevalent stage.  There was no significant difference in the amount of time spent in the other stages of sleep between patients on a placebo and those taking melatonin.

“Over the course of three weeks, none of the study participants taking the melatonin showed any of the adverse effects that are often observed with other, classic sleep aids,” explained Scheer, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “In fact, melatonin had a positive carry-over effect on sleep even after the participants had stopped taking the drug.”

The researchers caution that while this data is promising for patients taking beta-blockers for high blood pressure, more research is needed to determine whether patients taking beta-blockers for other health issues could also benefit from melatonin supplementation.   Before taking a melatonin supplement, discuss your sleep problem with your health care provider. He or she can tell you the possible benefits and risks of taking melatonin.

You can read more about sleep and sleep research in the following HealthHub blog posts:

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep Research:  Is the Night Shift Bad for Your Health

Why Can’t We Stay Asleep as We Get Older?

Wake Up, America! – We’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

– Jamie R.

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