Bedtime might just be one of the most common argument topics between a parent and a child. But sleep is not only about getting rest. Too little of it can interfere with a child’s ability to learn, which could lead to behavior issues, such as irritability and depression. Lack of sleep is also associated with physical ailments, including weight gain and high blood pressure. As such, making sure your child gets their slumber is vital for both their physical and mental well-being.
One study estimated between 25 percent and 50 percent of preschoolers (and even 40 percent of adolescents) experience sleep-related problems. Melatonin is a popular sleep aid among adults, so if you’re wondering whether it’s safe to give melatonin to your child, you’re not alone in wondering this! Before giving your child melatonin (or any over-the-counter medication), it’s best to speak to your pediatrician first. But in general, melatonin provides a safe, short-term solution for your child’s sleep issues.
What is Melatonin?Our bodies have hormones that control our wake and sleep patterns. This is known as our circadian rhythm. At night, our body releases the hormone melatonin from the pineal gland, signaling it’s time to wind down and fall asleep. Our level of melatonin then drops when the sun rises.
What you see in the drugstore is a synthetic version of melatonin that mimics the effects of the natural hormone. However, commercially available melatonin is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is also not classified as a sleeping pill but instead a dietary supplement.
The amount of melatonin found in over-the-counter products vary widely between brands, so you’ll want to consult with a pediatrician to determine proper dosage for your child. A good rule of thumb is to start with a low dosage and work your way up, depending on the results.
Is Melatonin Safe?
Research has shown that melatonin is an effective, short-term sleep aid and may help children fall asleep faster. One study found the majority of children with sleep problems improved their rest time and insomnia with melatonin treatment. Others have shown melatonin as a positive effect on children with ADHD, autism, and other neurological disorders who also have sleep problems.
No studies have yet analyzed melatonin’s long-term effect on children. Melatonin may affect puberty-related hormones, but no research has concluded whether it definitely interferes with child development.
Further, melatonin can produce side effects, including increased bedwetting episodes, dizziness, nightmares, mood changes, and morning grogginess. Those side effects usually fade when usage is discontinued.
However, no child under age 3 should be given melatonin. General dosages range from 0.5 to 6 milligrams, so a low dose of 0.5 to 1 milligram is usually enough to ease most children into sleep if given 30 to 90 minutes prior to bedtime.
How Else Can I Help My Child Fall Asleep?As a parent, you want your child to get the benefits of a full night’s sleep. But if you’re hesitant to give your child medication, you can promote good nighttime habits without a sleep aid. Try these three tips to send your child to dreamland every night:
Know Your Child. Your child’s restlessness may be due to a temporary situation, such as stress over an upcoming exam. Or, a physical ailment (ear infection, restless leg syndrome) could be the source of your child’s insomnia. Talk to your child about what may be keeping them up at night and address that issue with your pediatrician.
Shut Off the Computer. Computers, tablets, and smartphones emit blue light, which interferes with the production of melatonin. In other words, at a time when the child should be dozing off, they become more wide awake. For a quicker route to sleep, have your child turn off the devices at least an hour before bedtime.
Establish a Routine. Set down a consistent hour every night when it’s time for your child to relax and slip under the bed covers. Although your child may resist at first, keep at it. It won’t happen overnight (pun intended), but eventually, your child — and you — will benefit from an established bedtime routine that gets them to sleep at the same time every night so they wake up refreshed in the morning.
If you’ve tried these methods and your child still experiences sleep problems, speak to your pediatrician about what may be causing your child’s insomnia. Only give your child melatonin with your doctor’s permission as it could interfere with other medications your child takes.