A pilot study conducted in patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease and experiencing a sleep disorder by Dr. Manuel Alejandro Aguilar and colleagues identified that melatonin improves the sleep installation stage and in a second phase of his research he will seek to determine the effect of that hormone in the rest of the sleep stages.

The main objective of their work is to generate new pharmacological options to treat sleep disorders in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, since many of the drugs currently used interact negatively with the medications commonly used by Alzheimer’s patients.

The effects of melatonin

While it is true that there are already several drugs to improve the quality of sleep, these often have a negative interaction with drugs that Alzheimer’s patients take regularly to keep their disease under control.

As an alternative we are testing melatonin, a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland as a result of the entry of sunlight through the retina. However, with aging, the production of melatonin declines and that is why the sleep period gets shorter in older adults.”

In the case of people with Alzheimer’s disease, this process is accentuated resulting in sleep disorders. As exogenous administration of melatonin helps to improve sleep disturbances, particularly those associated with jetlag, and also works as neuroprotector, it represents a potential pharmacological alternative for this type of patient.

In a first stage for the use of melatonin ­to treat sleep disorders in Alzheimer’s patients, the researchers recruited a pilot group of patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease and who were not yet under pharmacological treatment. The participants answered a diagnostic questionnaire to detect their sleep disorders.

Once diagnosed, they were incorporated into a clinical trial where they received melatonin tablets half an hour before sleep —three to five milligrams—and their sleep was monitored through a polysomnographic study, i.e. a brain activity that determines how sleep is installed during the sleep stages.

In a second stage, patients were monitored one more night during which they were given placebo , to compare how the brain activity associated with the sleep stages changed with the drug and without it.

This experimental control gives us the certainty that the changes we observed in the polysomnographic study are associated with the consumption of the pill and not with any other variable“.

The findings

The first results of this research were published earlier this year and in a paper called ‘Melatonin effects on EEG sctivity during sleep onset in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a pilot study’ at the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports.

Thanks to this work we were able to see an improvement in the sleep installation process, in other words patients fall asleep faster and the brain waves recorded were very similar to those seen in a normal person.”

In the next stage of the research, Dr. Cruz Aguilar will record what happens in the following stages of the dream (phase 1, 2, 3 and REM). For this they are looking for new patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease and who have not yet undergone medical treatment.


Source: Agencia Informativa CONACYT