How to get good sleep in a bad situation

I’ve stressed the importance of sleep many times before. Getting enough quality rest is a critical part of feeling good…not to mention warding off potentially deadly diseases like type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

And my primary recommendations for getting a good night’s rest always start with focusing on your sleeping environment. Making sure your bedroom is quiet and dark makes a big difference. But sometimes it’s not possible to control those factors. And a recent study showed one of my go-to supplements can help you get a decent night’s sleep even if you’re faced with less-than-ideal conditions.

The study, conducted in China, concluded that taking melatonin can promote better quality sleep than using an eye mask and earplugs in a noisy, light-filled environment.

Researchers recruited 40 healthy participants to study the effects simulated ICU conditions (where bright light and noise are common) on sleep patterns. After determining “baselines” for all the participants, the researchers divided them into four groups. The first group received no sleep aid. The second were provided with eye masks and earplugs. The third group took 1 mg of melatonin before going to bed. The final group of participants was given a placebo.

The researchers found that all sleep patterns were disturbed by the simulated ICU environment. But those who took melatonin had fewer awakenings during the night than any of the other groups (even compared to the eye mask and earplugs group). The participants taking melatonin also reported better-quality sleep, with reported lower anxiety levels and increased REM (rapid eye movement), which refreshes and stimulates the parts of the brain used for learning.

The participants in this study had good results with just 1 mg of melatonin, but I suspect they may have fared even better with a higher dose. I recommend a starting dose of 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime.


“Effect of oral melatonin and wearing earplugs and eye masks on nocturnal sleep in healthy subjects in a simulated intensive care unit environment: which might be a more promising strategy for ICU sleep deprivation?”Critical Care 2015; 19:124