Beta-blockers, which are commonly given to patients with cardiovascular conditions, hypertension, and anxiety, often result in sleep issues among patients. However, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have recently discovered that melatonin supplementation can improve sleep patterns among patients with hypertension who are taking beta-blockers.

According to a study from 2006, beta-blockers should not be used regularly for treatment of hypertension.

Melatonin, also called N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a hormone that is closely involved in the sleeping and waking cycles. It is a naturally occurring compound which is present in plants, microbes, animals, and humans. Levels of melatonin in people are different, depending on the daily cycle.

Frank Scheer, PhD, MSc, lead investigator of the trial and an associate neuroscientist at BWH, commented:

“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. We found that melatonin supplements significantly improved sleep.”

During the study, which will be published in the journal SLEEP, the experts examined 16 patients with hypertension who were taking beta-blockers on a regular basis in order to treat their condition. The individuals were prescribed either a melatonin supplement to take every night before going to sleep, or a placebo. None of the participants knew which pill they were taking.

Throughout the 3 week study, the volunteers visited the lab two different times, each visit lasting 4 days. The experts were able to examine how their sleep habits had changed. They discovered that in the people who had taken the melatonin supplement, sleep time was increased by 37 minutes, in comparison to the individuals who were given the placebo.

The team found that the time the individuals slept during stage 2 sleep was increased by 41 minutes, with no decline in REM sleep or slow wave sleep. The participants were also found to have had an 8% boost in regards to how soundly they slept.

“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. There were also no signs of ‘rebound insomnia‘ after the participants stopped taking the drug. In fact, melatonin had a positive carry-over effect on sleep even after the participants had stopped taking the drug,” said Scheer.

Authors of this study note that melatonin supplements are clearly beneficial for hypertensive patients who take beta-blockers, but further research needs to be done in order to assess whether other types of patients could benefit from this treatment as well.

Written by Christine Kearney