Sleep Is Not For The Weak! How Melatonin Has Been Found To Help Treat And Prevent COVID-19
Is COVID-19 much more related to sleep (or lack thereof) than we expected?
Growing up, we always hear the expression “Sleep is for the weak.” As kids, we dreaded sleep because we always wanted that extra hour to play or watch our favorite shows. As we grew up, we needed to cut down on sleep to be able to make time for that 3-hour commute to work or to pull all-nighters to meet deadlines.
Many people associate sleepiness as a weakness, something to overcome to be as productive as possible. In fact, many tests were conducted to train the body to sleep less, some suggesting you can function with just three to four hours of sleep a day.
Now, here's why you shouldn't take sleep for granted.
As we continue to battle COVID-19 and deal with all the new strains popping up from UK and Japan, numerous studies and tests are being conducted all over the world to determine the best ways to prevent and treat this dreaded disease.
Of the many supplementation and treatment studies, one of the standouts are studies on melatonin, what is most common to us as the sleep hormone. And according to recent findings, significant data suggests that melatonin has been linked to help COVID-19 patients recover and even prevent healthy ones from contracting the disease.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces to regulate your sleep and waking-up cycles. It’s usually produced by the brain at night in response to darkness to signal it’s time for you to sleep. Light, on the other hand, decreases melatonin production to signal that it’s time for you to wake up.
Those who have trouble sleeping tend to have low levels of melatonin, that’s why melatonin supplementation became popular. In the last years, many studies have been conducted to test whether melatonin supplements can help those suffering with insomnia, anxieties, and even cancer. And this time around, studies are suggesting that this hormone may also help in treating or preventing COVID-19.
Melatonin as treatment for COVID-19 patients
Melatonin as a treatment for COVID-19 patients became more popular around October last year when outgoing US president Donald Trump contracted the disease and received melatonin (among many other medicines and supplements) as part of his treatment.
According to a study on diseases published in November last year, an international peer-reviewed open access, multidisciplinary journal available at MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute), there has been evidence suggesting that melatonin has anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory, and antioxidant properties that counteracts chronodisruption, and combats many comorbidities, including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
In a nutshell, the researchers say that “melatonin has possible antiviral activity by interfering with SARS-CoV-2/angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 association” and is a potential “silver bullet” in this war against the coronavirus.
In another study at the Colombia University published on medRxiv, it was also discovered that intubated COVID-19 patients had better rates of survival if they received melatonin.
Melatonin is also linked to prevent COVID-19
The sleep hormone was not just linked to COVID-19 treatment; some studies also found that it is a promising candidate in preventing infection.
In an observational study published in November by the Cleveland Clinic, using data from nearly 27,000 patients, researchers found that melatonin usage lowered the chance of testing positive for COVID-19 by about 28%. And it’s not just COVID-19; they also found that it lowered probability of testing positive for diabetics, asthma, and hypertension.
While these findings sound promising, Dr. Feixiong Cheng, the study's lead author, cautions against using melatonin supplementation off the bat. He says: “It is very important to note these findings do not suggest people should start to take melatonin without consulting their physician. Large-scale observational studies and randomized controlled trials are critical to validate the clinical benefit of melatonin for patients with COVID-19, but we are excited about the associations put forth in this study and the opportunity to further explore them.”
But like many medical applications of supplements, this is the first step for melatonin to be tested further. As scientists continue to find a suitable treatment and vaccine for COVID-19, exploratory and observational studies like these will vastly help in giving us an edge against the coronavirus.
Importance of sleep
Melatonin’s effects on COVID-19 treatment and prevention may not have been fully peer-reviewed, but Dr. Cheng believes that more than melatonin, it’s actually the function that it controls that may have a real relationship with the virus—and that is sleep.
The Atlantic highlights that sleep may have a bigger part to play in this pandemic. Throughout last year, the department of neurology at Johns Hopkins University has been flooded with requests from people suffering from insomnia. While neurologists initially hypothesized that the anxieties brought by the pandemic was the culprit for this, new findings on sleep patterns—or lack thereof—started to surface from those who supposedly recovered from COVID-19.
After recovering, COVID-19 patients reported they were still suffering from debilitating headaches, brain fog, muscular weakness, and, insomnia. More and more, we’ve been seeing insomnia being experienced by those who suffer from “long COVID,” where symptoms persist indefinitely even after the person recovers from the disease.
While we still don’t know anything solid at this point, it’s still important to note that sleep shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially in these times of high health risk. Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, warns that not getting enough sleep has been scientifically proven to have serious effects on our brains and bodies, putting us at higher risk for many diseases.
So what’s “enough sleep,” you ask? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, most adults function best with seven to nine hours of sleep. When you persistently sleep below six hours a day, you are likely to find yourself at an increased risk of health problems.