You’ve tried to create a consistent bedtime for your child, but for some reason, it’s not working. In fact, your child’s lack of sleep is beginning to affect their health and school performance. And now, you’re going half-crazy with worry seeking for a solution to your child’s insomnia.
Have you heard of melatonin — a natural hormone — that induces sleep? Maybe your pediatrician has once mentioned it. And if you’re wondering if it is really beneficial and safe for your child, you’re not alone.
What is Melatonin?
The melatonin you see over the counter at health and drug stores is actually a synthetic form of a hormone our brains naturally create to make falling asleep easy. The body’s melatonin helps in regulating the circadian clocks that is responsible for our sleep/wake cycles and practically all functions of our bodies.
Melatonin is a natural hormone manufactured by the pineal gland, located right above the center of the brain. This hormone controls the circadian rhythm with unique sleep-wake patterns that we adhere to. Typically, the body releases melatonin in the evenings, stimulated by darkness. It is mostly shut off in the morning and during the day.
Foods Rich in Melatonin
If your child experiences occasional insomnia or is suffers difficulty falling asleep at night, then maybe it’s time to incorporate these foods in his or her diet.
- Green leafy vegetables
- Tart Cherries
- Sweet corn
Melatonin and Insomnia
Due to medical conditions such as autism, mental retardation, ADHD, visual impairment, cerebral palsy and many others, children may experience insomnia. However, with melatonin, the time needed for some children to fall asleep may be reduced.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, melatonin helps to encourage sleep for children with ADHD but does nothing for the symptoms related to ADHD. Additionally, melatonin may reduce the frequency and length of seizures for children with epilepsy when consumed at bedtime.
Can Melatonin Help Your Child Sleep?
Several studies have indicated that melatonin can decrease the time of falling asleep in children with insomnia. This also includes children suffering from autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. As a matter of fact, there isn’t enough evidence to show that melatonin helps children stay asleep.
Sadly, there are a lot of reasons why children may experience insomnia. These reasons include leg cramps, anxiety or retiring to bed too early. Before considering melatonin for managing insomnia in kids, talk to your pediatrician about conducting a good evaluation for other potential underlying causes.
Fortunately, several sleep problems can be better handled by sticking to behavioral measures or other kinds of solutions. For instance, melatonin would do nothing for a child who’s on their phone or laptop just before bed! Melatonin is suppressed with these light-emitting devices.
Is Melatonin Safe for Children?
Surfing the web would give you confusing responses. Little wonder parents are unsure about melatonin. Here are some of the conflicting messages:
- “Avoid the use of melatonin in most children. It is likely unsafe. Due to its effects on other hormones, melatonin might disrupt development during adolescence.”
- “According to over 24 studies, melatonin is safe for children and has little to no side effects.”
- “The consumption of low doses of melatonin can help children sleep better with no side effects, but more research needs to be done on its efficacy.”
This last quote is similar to what we actually think of melatonin for kids. Generally, melatonin seems safe for kids and with few side effects. The few side effects include increased bedwetting, morning grogginess and headaches.
However, based on studies on animals, melatonin is shown to have an effect on puberty-related hormones. Of course, there isn’t much evidence to indicate that this is true in humans.
Additionally, real melatonin concentrations can vary from product to product. These changes can affect both its safety and efficacy. Due to this, some health experts recommend buying pharmaceutical-grade melatonin on line. It may be more reliable when it comes to dose.
When Should Melatonin Not Be Used for a Child?
As earlier stated, children find it difficult to sleep for many reasons. So you should steer clear of melatonin if:
- Insomnia is situational and caused by anxiety about a matter (excitement over a new school toy, for example)
- Insomnia is short-term and is as a result of an ear infection, or other factors.
- Insomnia is caused by underlying physical factor such as leg cramps and sleep apnea.
- Your child is below 3 years old.
In short, melatonin should never substitute for healthy sleep habits such as a consistent bedtime routine, no electronic device before bedtime and no caffeine.
Giving your child more than the prescribed dose can lead to melatonin overdose symptoms. These symptoms include anxiety, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, joints pain, headaches, diarrhea, and irritability. As a matter of fact, excess melatonin in a child’s body can disrupt his or her circadian cycle.
Side Effects of Melatonin
Though melatonin is a natural hormone, as a supplement, it can have the side effects below.
- Vivid dreams
- Lower body temperature
- Drowsiness during the day
- Stomach pain
You should avoid administering melatonin supplements to your children if they suffer high blood pressure, seizures, depression, bleeding disorders, and diabetes. Parents should also endeavor to purchase melatonin supplements from reliable sources and consult a qualified doctor before considering it.
How and When Should You Give Melatonin to Your Child?
Melatonin medications can be tricky to dose. As a parent, you should establish your child’s usual sleep routine to determine when you give him or her melatonin supplements. Here are a couple of rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- Confirm from your doctor what the ideal dosage of melatonin is for your child. Considering their weight, age and type of sleep problem, children may require between 0.5mg and 6mg of melatonin to induce sleep.
- Melatonin supplements, like most synthetic drugs, can increase the hormone levels to a higher degree than what the body naturally produces. Therefore, a dose of between 1mg and 3mg of melatonin can elevate the body’s melatonin levels up to 20 times.
The Bottom Line
It does not really matter whether you prefer natural food supplements or synthetic melatonin supplements for your child. Only ensure that the dosage does not go beyond what is recommended daily, to avoid unpleasant side-effects.
Once you notice your child has trouble sleeping at night, the first thing to do should be a change in their dietary and lifestyle habits. This would help in building a healthy sleeping habit for the child. However, if it is severe insomnia or due to a medical condition, you can try giving the child melatonin supplements, but as recommended by a doctor. Yes, we insist that you only consider melatonin after consultations with a health care provider.
In general, melatonin probably has the least risk and the most benefit if your child has serious difficulty falling asleep at night. In fact, when it is used in combination with healthy lifestyle habits, it can significantly improve the quality and length of a child’s sleep.