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Melatonin use on the rise

More and more people in Finland are taking over-the-counter melatonin to get to sleep, despite experts saying the pills may not always be of much help.

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Finland has seen a many-fold increase in melatonin use in the past ten years. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle
Yle News

Melatonin sales in Finland have increased significantly. In the past decade, the number of melatonin packages sold annually has grown from 400,000 to over a million, representing a 2.5-fold increase.

Last year saw nearly 1.1 million packages of the sleep aid sold in Finland, according to figures from Pharmaca, formerly known as the Pharmaceutical Information Centre.

Timo Partonen of public health authority THL said this development was positive, especially since the use of traditional sleep medications has at the same time decreased. Traditional sleep medications carry greater risks than melatonin, according to Partonen.

But melatonin isn't a cure-all, as the sleep hormone only addresses certain sleep problems.

"Melatonin is a hormone, so if your body's melatonin production is good, then you don't get any extra benefit from melatonin supplements," explained Eevert Partinen, who heads private health provider Terveystalo's Sleep Clinic.

He pointed to research indicating that short-term melatonin use was beneficial for people experiencing jet-lag induced sleep problems. Some studies have also found long-term melatonin use to be somewhat beneficial for elderly people suffering from insomnia.

When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, Partinen said that while melatonin is a relatively safe supplement, the pills may not always address the underlying factors preventing people from falling asleep.

"Studies show that non-pharmacological treatments provide better long-term help," he explained.

Two out of three melatonin packages in Finland are sold over the counter, without a prescription, at pharmacies and grocery stores. Melatonin is classified as a dietary supplement when sold at concentrations below 2mg.

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