Our brain is complex and amazing. It knows when it is time to be awake and when it’s time to be asleep. You might think that the brain determines when to sleep based on when the body runs out of energy or after a certain amount of time has passed; however, sleep is more complicated than that. Sleep patterns are based on daylight and darkness. The pineal gland releases a hormone called melatonin when it’s dark that helps us to fall asleep. During the day, the body has low levels of melatonin.
Melatonin as a Sleep Aid for Children
It makes sense that if melatonin regulates sleep, that melatonin supplementation would aid in sleep. While its use can be beneficial for children, it’s best to consult your pediatrician before use. Synthetic melatonin is available over there counter in a variety of doses and forms. Because it is sold as a dietary aid, it is unregulated in the United States. This lack of regulation may pose concern over its use.
What We Know
Does it work?
According to the AAP, 15-25% of children struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night. For these children, melatonin may be helpful. While research suggests that melatonin only improves sleep onset by about 8 minutes, this is for the general population. For children with actual sleep disorders, melatonin may be a safe and effective way to treat their sleep issues. Further, children with ADHD may have a higher incidence of sleep disorders due to the use of stimulant medication. Melatonin may be particularly beneficial for kids taking ADHD meds to help them maintain good sleep hygiene.
Is it safe?
The big question with parents is always “is it safe?” While there hasn’t been enough research to conclusively say that melatonin is safe for children, there have also been no reported incidents of overdoses on melatonin or serious adverse effects. Because there are potential interactions with medications or certain medical conditions, melatonin should not be given without consulting a doctor.
Keep in mind that melatonin, while not proven to be dangerous, has not been sufficiently studied. Along with regulating sleep, melatonin also helps control the release of female reproductive hormones and may be involved in the aging process. We just don’t know enough to say what kind of effect long term use could have on the body or if there are any potential unknown risks. It’s best to use melatonin only when necessary and with a doctor’s consultation.
Suggestions on Improving Sleep:
~ A regular bedtime routine is important for keeping your child in a good sleep pattern. Bath time, followed by brushing teeth, and a bedtime story, is a good night-time routine. You may need to start the bedtime routine an hour or so before you plan for your child to be asleep.
~ Keep the room as dark as possible. If your child needs a little light, use a night light versus the hall light. Remember, darkness is what triggers melatonin production and will help to make him sleepy.
~If it takes your child over a half hour to fall asleep on a consistent basis, evaluate his sleep schedule and his cues. Most grade school children need between 9-11 hours. If he is getting enough sleep, it may be time to adjust wake-up time or bedtime. If he is not getting enough sleep and/or struggling consistently to fall asleep after 30 minutes or sleep through the night, you may want to discuss melatonin or other options with your pediatrician.