Results show that after taking melatonin, participants fell asleep faster and experienced less wakefulness after sleep onset than after taking a placebo. Furthermore, in comparison with a placebo, mean reaction time the day after taking melatonin was significantly improved.
“Surprisingly, climbers in this study that were administered a placebo took approximately 44 minutes to fall asleep,” said principal investigator Christopher Jung, PhD, assistant professor in the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “After taking melatonin, it took them only approximately 20 minutes to fall asleep, and this increase in sleep was likely a significant factor in improving cognitive performance.”
The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal SLEEP, and Jung will present the findings Tuesday, June 4, in Baltimore, Md., at SLEEP 2013, the 27th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.
The randomized, placebo-controlled study involved 13 climbers who were evaluated on two consecutive nights at 14,200 feet on Mt. McKinley, which has a summit elevation of 20,320 feet, making it the highest peak in North America. In the double blind, crossover, within-subjects design, participants took melatonin 90 minutes prior to their chosen bedtime on one night, and they took a placebo at the same time on the other night. Participants slept in their own tents, and a wireless sleep recording device was used to quantify sleep quality. During the day after the two test nights, cognitive performance was measured using a computerized version of the Stroop test to assess mean reaction time.
According to the authors, high altitude exposure is associated with hypoxia-related sleep disruption and decrements in cognition that can be especially problematic in extreme conditions.
“Many high altitude climates are extreme and dangerous, often requiring split-second decisions to be made during climbing and military operations,” said Jung. “Based on these results, melatonin is a safe and natural supplement that improves cognitive function and sleep at high altitude.”
For a copy of the abstract, “Melatonin as a countermeasure to the effects of high altitude on sleep and cognition on North America’s highest peak,” or to arrange an interview with Dr. Jung or an AASM spokesperson, please contact AASM Communications Coordinator Lynn Celmer at [email protected].
A joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, the annual SLEEP meeting brings together an international body of more than 5,500 leading clinicians and scientists in the fields of sleep medicine and sleep research. At SLEEP 2013 (www.sleepmeeting.org) more than 1,300 research abstract presentations will showcase new findings that contribute to the understanding of sleep and the effective diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine considers sleep disorders an illness that has reached epidemic proportions. Board-certified sleep medicine physicians in an AASM-accredited sleep center provide effective treatment. AASM encourages patients to talk to their doctors about sleep problems or visit www.sleepeducation.com for a searchable directory of sleep centers.
CONTACT: Lynn Celmer, 630-737-9700, ext. 9364, [email protected]