An exploration of sleep and insomnia, with a single destination in mind:
a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Taking Vitamins Can Contribute to Poor Sleep

Taking multivitamins or B-vitamins before you go to bed can cause a "slightly higher rate of poor or interrupted sleep," according to the New York Times. It's not clear that there's an actual cause and effect when it comes to vitamin pills and sleep, because, as the Times noted, it may be that people who sleep poorly are the ones most likely to take vitamins before going to sleep.

The Times also reports: "Some studies have shown that ingesting vitamin B6 before bed can lead to very vivid dreaming, which can wake people up. B6 helps the body convert tryptophan to serotonin, a hormone that affects sleep. Other studies have shown that vitamin B12 can affect melatonin levels, promoting wakefulness."

With most things medical there are three risks to self-treating based on unconfirmed study or two, or based on something you read in an article or heard from your friend, Jamie. There are three risks to using what I call Google-based medicine. First, self-treating based on "stuff you've read" can be infective and a waste of money, as with homeopathy. There are lots of scams, quacks and old, broken ideas in medicine and science. That's not really so much of a problem --it's just money down the drain-- as long as it doesn't lead to problem number two: Preventing you from going to a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis of what might be a serious illness. The third problem when it comes to what Google-based medicine is that it can be harmful. The dietary supplement, L-tryptophan, for example, widely used to help people fall asleep, was recalled and banned by the FDA in 1989 because it caused a rare, but fatal, blood disorder in some people.

Back to the issue at hand: How should you act on the skimpy research that indicates that taking a multivitamin or B-vitamin before bed can be bad for sleep?  This question, as with all unproven research about sleep, should be evaluated using the three criteria I just wrote about. These three criteria are a good rule of thumb when it comes to evaluating most, if not all, claims about sleep-helpers, so keep them in mind:

1. Is it a waste of money?
2. Does it prevent you from seeking out a doctor for what might be a serious condition?
3. Could it be dangerous?

When the answer is no to all of these questions, then go ahead use that research. In the case of the possible link between vitamins and sleep, if you take your vitamin pill at night, start taking it in the morning.

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