Melatonin has become such a common supplement that it's hard to find someone who hasn't taken it at some point. But what is it really? And is it okay to give to your child?
Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces in response to darkness and helps to create your biological clock, or the times you are asleep and the times you are awake. Melatonin is also made synthetically as a dietary supplement that you can purchase over the counter, and is used to help treat some sleep disorders.
Since melatonin is "natural" and it's available without prescription, people don't often think twice about taking it themselves, or giving it to their children. However, before you purchase that bottle that advertises to help your child sleep, here are some things to consider.
Melatonin use has not been studied in children. The effects of prolonged use is unknown.
While melatonin is a dietary supplement, side effects are still a risk and for children they include morning drowsiness, headache, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, bedwetting, vivid dreams, and feeling depressed.
Melatonin is not regulated by the FDA. Some studies have found discrepancies in the dose listed on the package and the actual dose of the medication.
The dose you give is important, especially for children and with the wide array of options in the store it's very confusing. A parent could easily give their child a dose much higher than what is necessary, and higher doses can lead to more side effects.
Melatonin shouldn't be taken with certain health conditions and can interact with some medications.
Lastly, ask yourself "Why is my child not sleeping?"
For children with neurodevelopment disorders and other conditions that cause insomnia, melatonin is a great option to help with sleep (with your doctor's supervision and guidance).
However, for children who do not have a medical condition affecting sleep, you could be giving a supplement that could cause side effects while masking other sleep related issues.
Look closely at what your child's schedule and routines are around sleep. Does he have a regular and age-appropriate bedtime and wake-up time? Many parents are surprised at how early a young child should be going to bed (and really all children). But late work hours for parents and kids' activities in the evening tend to push bedtimes later and cause children to become overtired. An overtired child will most definitely have a hard time falling asleep. And even if you intend to have your child to bed early, are there behavioral considerations (stall tactics, coming out of his room, etc.) at bedtime that are causing a delay in sleep? Also, what is your child doing within an hour of going to bed? One of the biggest disruptions to kids (and adults) falling asleep is the late night use of screens and artificial light. Since your natural melatonin is prompted by darkness, lights will interrupt your melatonin levels and make it difficult to fall asleep. All screens should be turned off and lights dimmed at least an hour before bedtime. Let me repeat that, all screens should be turned off and lights dimmed at least one hour before bed. (this one is hard for me too)
So, is there a right time to give melatonin to your child? Yes, there are times when melatonin is appropriate. However, my recommendation is to speak to your pediatrician or a sleep expert first. Once sleep hygiene and other medical problems for insomnia have been ruled out, he or she can advise you on using melatonin, the risks and possible side effects, the benefits, the expected length of time to take the supplement, and the proper dosage.
Do you have further questions about melatonin? I'd love to chat. Click here to send me a message.
Caron, Christina. 5/18/2020. Parents Are Relying on Melatonin to Help Their Kids Sleep. The NY Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/parenting/melatonin-sleep-kids.html?fbclid=IwAR1uN9G8rZD1ztX_tVnMlK7B0At3fDfLfHtuIPpTW5vzZGRtormXsOAEySY