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Melatonin improves abdominal pain in irritable bowel syndrome patients who have sleep disturbances: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled study
  1. G H Song1,
  2. P H Leng1,
  3. K A Gwee1,
  4. S M Moochhala2,
  5. K Y Ho1
  1. 1Department of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore
  2. 2Defence Medical and Environmental Research Institute, DSO National Laboratories (Kent Ridge), Singapore
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr K Y Ho
    Department of Medicine, National University Hospital, Lower Kent Ridge Rd, Singapore 119074;


Background and aims: Melatonin, a sleep promoting agent, is involved in the regulation of gastrointestinal motility and sensation. We aimed to determine if melatonin was effective in improving bowel symptoms and sleep disturbances in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients with sleep disturbance.

Methods: Forty IBS patients (aged 20–64 years; 24 female) with sleep disturbances were randomly assigned to receive either melatonin 3 mg (n = 20) or matching placebo (n = 20) at bedtime for two weeks. Immediately before and after the treatment, subjects completed bowel, sleep, and psychological questionnaires, and underwent rectal manometry and overnight polysomnography.

Results: Compared with placebo, melatonin taken for two weeks significantly decreased mean abdominal pain score (2.35 v 0.70; p<0.001) and increased mean rectal pain threshold (8.9 v −1.2 mm Hg; p<0.01). Bloating, stool type, stool frequency, and anxiety and depression scores did not significantly differ after treatment in both groups. Data from sleep questionnaires and polysomnography showed that the two week course of melatonin did not influence sleep parameters, including total sleep time, sleep latency, sleep efficiency, sleep onset latency, arousals, duration of stages 1–4, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and REM onset latency.

Conclusions: Administration of melatonin 3 mg at bedtime for two weeks significantly attenuated abdominal pain and reduced rectal pain sensitivity without improvements in sleep disturbance or psychological distress. The findings suggest that the beneficial effects of melatonin on abdominal pain in IBS patients with sleep disturbances are independent of its action on sleep disturbances or psychological profiles.

  • EEG, electroencephalogram
  • EMG, electromyogram
  • ESS, Epworth sleepiness scale
  • IBS, irritable bowel syndrome
  • IBSSESQ, IBS symptoms evaluation score questionnaire
  • NREM, non-rapid eye movement
  • PSG, polysomnography
  • PSQI, Pittsburgh sleep quality index
  • REM, rapid eye movement
  • TST, total sleep time
  • TIB, time in bed
  • WASO, wake after sleep onset
  • 5-HT, serotonin
  • melatonin
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • sleep disturbance
  • polysomnography
  • pain

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  • Conflict of interest: None declared.

  • These data were published in abstract form (Gut 2004;53(suppl VI):A69) and were presented orally at the 12th United European Gastroenterology Week, Prague, 2004.

  • Published online first 24 May 2005

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