Melatonin and Children: Should You Use This Sleep Aid?

Have you ever shared your baby sleep woes with a friend, and had them suggest melatonin? In a growing trend, increasing numbers of tired parents are turning to using melatonin supplements as a sleep aid for their little ones. While melatonin can help through difficult times, it is not targeting the greater issue of sleep issues.

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WHAT IS MELATONIN?

Melatonin is a hormone naturally found in animals and plants; in humans, melatonin is released by the pineal gland in the brain, and dictates the day-night schedule, thereby regulating circadian rhythms. According to the National Sleep Foundation, no other hormone is available in the United States without a prescription. In addition to bypassing the need for a doctor’s prescription, melatonin, because it is naturally available in some foods, is sold as a dietary supplement; as a result, melatonin supplements do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because melatonin is not regulated by the FDA, it opens the door to the possibility of unregulated levels of melatonin in the product you purchase. In turn, improper dosage of melatonin, and taking the supplement at the wrong time, can actually “reset your biological clock“.

As yet, there have been no long-term studies proving the long-term effectiveness of melatonin as a sleep aid, as well as the possibility of lasting side effects. Known side effects include headaches and stomach aches, in addition to the expected drowsiness. A quick look at the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) commentary on melatonin is enough for me to think twice about giving synthetic melatonin to a child (without any underlying behavioral health issues). In fact, the NIH categorizes the use of melatonin in infants and children as “possibly unsafe”, due to the potential for melatonin to interfere with other hormones and possibly affect development in adolescence. In essence, melatonin is not something I would recommend giving a child without an underlying health issue or under advice from a medical health professional.

I understand what it’s like to be an overtired parent, with an overtired child – I’ve been there! The issue with using a melatonin supplement is that you are bypassing the real cause of the issue: teaching and enforcing healthy sleep habits. Instead of giving your child a potentially risky substance, work with your child to develop healthy sleep habits. If you need assistance, Please reach out to me.  I’m here to help!

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