(CMR) Parents are sometimes faced with the task of getting their young children to go to sleep, especially late at night. This can be stressful, especially when you had a long and stressful day at work.
Many parents use drugs such as melatonin to get their children to fall asleep. But is it really safe? It's important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't approved the use of melatonin for kids.
First, let us look at how melatonin works. The brain starts releasing melatonin—a hormone produced in the pineal gland—as it gets dark at night to help us fall asleep. This hormone usually shuts off when we wake up in the mornings.
There are synthetic forms of melatonin available in supplements that usually make kids (or adults) tired within 30 minutes. They're available over-the-counter as gummies, pills, liquids, or chewable tablets.
Melatonin supplements have been proven to help children with autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders fall asleep faster. However, while low doses of melatonin may be safe for children, researchers still don't know the long-term side effects of taking any amount. People should remember it is a drug and should be treated as such.
At the same time giving too much melatonin, or giving it at the wrong time, could mess up your child's sleep schedule. Researchers also found that some melatonin supplements had more melatonin than was stated on the product.
Some children may have side effects from taking melatonin, including headaches, nausea, sweating, dizziness, bedwetting, and drowsiness in the morning.
It is important to talk to your child's doctor before giving them melatonin. They can help determine if the supplement is necessary and advise on dosage and timing. It is often recommended that children start with the lowest dose possible and that Melatonin be used with other behavioral interventions and for as short a time as possible.
Melatonin could mess up sleep schedules when taken at the wrong time and should not be given to kids in the middle of the night.
It is also important to note that while it helps children fall asleep, it may not help them stay asleep.
Before considering gummy, chewable, capsule, or liquid melatonin for kids, you might want to try other methods to help them sleep. If the issue persists, though, talk to your pediatrician for the next steps.
You may also want to consider other ways to get your children to go to sleep. Explore Parents makes the following suggestions:
Find the root cause of restlessness. If your child is having trouble settling down, ask yourself why. Are they worried about something? Is their bedtime too early? Perhaps they have sleep apnea or restless legs? Pinpointing the cause can help you find an effective solution.
Go to bed at the same time each night. While kids might fight against a set bedtime, having a predictable sleep schedule can regulate their internal clock.
Create a bedtime routine. Help your child relax before bed with meditation, music, reading, or other soothing activities. “What the actual routines are can be specific to your child and his or her age, but they should occur each night around the same time,” according to the AAP. “This will help your child understand that it's time to settle down and get ready to sleep.
Limit technology before bed. Stop using screens at least an hour before bed (the light suppresses melatonin).
Get enough sleep. Aim to have your child get ten to 12 hours of sleep each night to prevent over-tiredness.
When taken with a doctor's approval, melatonin may help solve some children's sleep issues, especially if paired with other behavioral interventions. Still, researchers recommend that supplements not be used as a substitute for good sleep habits, like maintaining a bedtime routine, especially if your child doesn't have a diagnosed sleep problem.