- Kids and Sleep Disturbances: Children, like adults, can experience sleep issues due to various factors such as stress, academic pressures, and social concerns. Understanding that children’s sleep needs differ from adults is essential. Prolonged sleep problems in children can lead to academic challenges, mood changes, and behavioral issues, highlighting the importance of addressing these concerns.
- Exploring Melatonin: Synthetic melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter and are used to manage sleep disturbances. It is important to note that melatonin supplements do not induce sleep directly but help regulate the body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep. However, the use of melatonin supplements in children is a topic of debate due to limited research and uncertainty about long-term effects.
- Melatonin and Kids’ Sleep: While melatonin is generally considered safe, minor side effects include dizziness, nausea, bedwetting, morning grogginess, and mood changes. Consult a pediatrician before introducing melatonin supplements to children, especially those with ADHD, autism, or epilepsy. Behavioral changes and limiting screen time are alternative strategies to promote healthy sleep patterns in kids.
Like adults, kids also experience sleep issues from time to time. While your kids probably aren’t lying awake at night worrying about the mortgage or their job, there’s still plenty going on in their world. From a big test coming up to social stresses, there could be any number of things keeping them up at night.
Sleep expert and academic Dagmara Dimitriou notes, ”A growing number of children have sleep problems which include frequent night wakings and prolonged times to fall asleep.”
How much sleep children need depends on how old they are, but they need more sleep than an adult. Ad generally, their need for sleep lessens the older they are. A sleepless night here and there is not generally a cause for concern, but an ongoing lack of sleep in kids can lead to academic issues, as well as changes in mood and behavior.
Quite often, when these sleep disturbances go on longer than expected, it’s only natural for parents to start looking for solutions. Sleep aids are not generally recommended for kids, so more and more parents are reaching for melatonin. Many believe that since our bodies produce melatonin naturally, it must be safe. But is melatonin safe for kids?
In this article, we take a look at what melatonin is, what it does, and whether or not melatonin is safe for kids. We also offer some ideas for behavioral changes and improved sleep hygiene as an alternative to melatonin.
What Is Melatonin?a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. As a key player in your body’s circadian rhythm, it tells your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
Synthetic melatonin has become widely available and it doesn’t require a prescription in the USA, though that is not necessarily the case in other countries. More often than not, people mistakenly categorize melatonin supplements as an over-the-counter sleep aid.
However, melatonin supplements only add to your body’s natural supply of melatonin. When taken orally, it helps to regulate your body’s internal clock (just like the melatonin your body produces) and it has a sleep-inducing effect. Melatonin does not make you sleep, per se. Moreover, it can take up to two hours to feel its effects.
How Does Melatonin Work?by shortening sleep latency (or the amount of time it takes someone to fall asleep once the lights are out and they settle in). Prompted by darkness (think of the sun setting each evening), melatonin levels begin to rise in the evening; it reaches its peak in the early morning hours and begins to throttle back when it’s time to wake up.
While your body often works like a well-oiled machine maintaining this rhythm day in and day out, there can be disruptions from time to time. For example,has shown that exposure to light before bed can suppress the body’s production of melatonin and delay the onset of sleep.
Some may take a melatonin supplement at night to compensate for jet lag’s effects and help them fall asleep when they need to, while others may use melatonin for recurring insomnia.
How long does melatonin last in the body? Melatonin has a half-life of approximately 20 to 50 minutes, which means that half of the initial dose is eliminated within that time frame. In total, melatonin remains in the body for around four to five hours.
Common Side Effects of Melatonin
Melatonin can have a few minor side effects in children, including:
- Morning grogginess
- Mood changes
Very often, these symptoms disappear once your child stops taking the supplement.
In adults, a few of melatonin’s less common side effects include:
- Abdominal pain
- Mild anxiety
- Feelings of depression
However, as far as kids are concerned, it’s difficult to know how common these side effects are or how severe they can be as there is very little research to provide firm evidence.
As a quick side tangent, yhe potential risk of side effects is also why some question if melatonin is safe during pregnancy. Due to the limited research available, we recommend avoiding melatonin during pregnancy unless specifically advised by a healthcare professional. The potential risks and benefits need to be carefully assessed on an individual basis.
Can Melatonin Help Kids Fall Asleep?
Melatonin can help kids fall asleep. In fact,that it can shorten the length of time it takes for children to fall asleep. And while melatonin works with children who have insomnia, studies have shown that it can be particularly helpful in kids with ADHD or autism, both conditions linked to sleep troubles.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
While generally considered safe for adults,shows that melatonin can be a safe and effective way to deal with sleep disturbances in kids. That said, there is one caveat: The research on sleep disturbances in kids and the use of melatonin is limited.
So, while parents can use the supplement to help their child through what’s hopefully just a blip on the radar, the long-term effects of using melatonin are still unknown.
“It is vital that when melatonin is prescribed, parents should make sure to administer it according to the doctor’s instructions and monitor the child’s sleep regularly with a medical doctor.”
Dr. Dagmara Dimitriou, Professor of Sleep Education and Research
Behavioral Changes for Better Sleep In Kids
While melatonin is considered safe for kids it should never be a one-and-done solution for treating your child’s sleep disturbances. Instead, melatonin should be used in combination with behavioral changes and changes in your child’s sleep hygiene. Here are some things to consider or modify if your child is experiencing prolonged bouts of sleep onset insomnia.
Monitor Their Screen Time
Limiting your child’s screen time may be wise for many reasons, and now you can add good sleep hygiene to that list. We already know that exposure to light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, but research has shown that blue light is asuppressor of melatonin production.
This is primarily why we recommend avoiding blue light in the evening, along with the stimulating nature of most devices that can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. So if your kids are on their devices late into the evening, you might see an uptick in their sleep issues and find yourself fielding more requests for a later bedtime.
There are also benefits to a tech-free bedroom for developing children. Try to keep TVs, computers, e-readers, tablets and game consoles out of their bedroom, and if you can, teach your child to leave a cell phone outside of their bedroom.
Create a Calm and Comfortable Sleeping Space
A calm sleeping environment is crucial to promoting good sleep quality. To that end, be sure to:
- Monitor the temperature for sleep in your child’s room at night
- Keep toys and other distractions off your child’s bed
- Dim the lights in the evening and block noise as needed
Maintain a Consistent Sleep and Wake Schedule
While it may be tempting to let your kids sleep in on Saturday morning, your child’s sleep schedule should remain fairly consistent from day to day. A consistent sleep schedule will help them maintain the timing of their internal body clock or circadian rhythm. Meanwhile, big deviations in their sleep and wake schedule may throw their body clock out of whack.
Routine is especially important if you’re trying to help an autistic child sleep at night.
Don’t Use Sleep as a Disciplinary Tool
Parents are strongly cautioned not to use early bedtimes as a punishment or staying up late as a reward. Furthermore, your child’s bedroom should be used only for sleep or play. Do you routinely send your child to their room for a timeout? Consider moving their timeouts to another location in your home. You want to avoid stressful associations that can keep your child from falling asleep fast.
Encourage Plenty of Exercise
It should come as no surprise that the more active your child is during the day, the more tired they’ll be when bedtime rolls around. So, keep them busy throughout their day and remember that it doesn’t have to be limited to physical activity; mental challenges count too.
While it’s important that your child gets plenty of exercise, it’s equally important that you don’t overschedule them. Parents often think that more is more when it comes to extracurricular activities, but team sports often tend to run late into the evening hours, and when coupled with homework and chores, they can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.
Increase Exposure to Natural Sunlight
Research has shown that exposure to natural sunlightthe body’s natural circadian rhythms. So, if your child experiences poor sleep quality, you may want to send them out to play for a little while each day.
You can also look at their bedroom setup to help them experience the benefits of morning sunlight, such as easy-to-open curtains and mirrors that reflect light and make a room feel more well-lit.
When to See a Doctor
Parents should consult with their child’s pediatrician before starting their kids on melatonin or any type of supplement for that matter. As trained professionals, they can give you an expert opinion as to whether or not melatonin would be helpful to your child. Moreover, dosing considerations are often based on age, weight, height, etc., so it’s best to consult with an expert.
You may also want to speak with a doctor about melatonin supplements and other ways to treat sleep troubles if your child has:
However, melatonin supplements aren’t a common treatment for epilepsy and sleep, as the supplement can interfere with anti-seizure medication. A doctor can suggest alternative approaches to improve sleep.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is melatonin safe for babies?
No, we do not recommend giving melatonin to an infant. The concentration of melatonin is relatively low in an infant and their circadian rhythms are still in flux. Plus, there are no long-term studies on the effects of giving a melatonin supplement to a baby.
If you struggle with helping your baby fall asleep, we recommend speaking with their pediatrician. However, we also want to note that it’s normal for infant sleep patterns to change and that it can take a couple of weeks for the baby to settle into a new sleep routine.
How much melatonin is too much?
For adults, a standard dose is usually between 1 to 10 milligrams, with doses close to 30 milligrams considered excessive and harmful. People’s sensitivities to melatonin can vary, so the dosage an adult needs must also vary to compensate. It’s best to consult with your doctor to avoid a melatonin overdose.
However, children are far less capable of handling higher amounts of melatonin. Parents should be careful that a dose of melatonin doesn’t exceed 5 milligrams, and even this much can be harmful to a child.
Can a child take melatonin every night?
No, we do not recommend giving a child melatonin every night unless it is a specific recommendation from the child’s doctor. If your child has significant sleep problems and struggles to stay awake during the day, you may need to make an appointment with a sleep specialist.
They can work with you and your children to uncover the cause of your child’s sleep difficulties and recommend a solution. It may involve medication like melatonin supplements or lifestyle changes.
Do doctors prescribe melatonin to children?
Yes, doctors can prescribe melatonin to children, and they may do so if a child continues to struggle with sleep. For example, children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or children on the autism spectrum may have significant trouble falling asleep. So, a doctor may prescribe melatonin supplements to help them get a full night’s rest.
The exact dose of prescribed melatonin depends on the child’s age, and the prescription may come in a liquid or tablet form. Professor Dimitriou adds, “It is vital that when melatonin is prescribed, parents should make sure to administer it according to the doctor’s instructions and monitor the child’s sleep regularly with a medical doctor.”
What foods have melatonin?
If you want to help your child get more melatonin through their diet, you have a few different foods to consider:
- Tart cherries, and similarly tart cherry juice, can increase melatonin levels, though parents will also have to consider the amount of sugar in tart cherry juice.
- Eggs and fish, aside from their nutritional protein, also contain a significant amount of melatonin. When it comes to fish, salmon, sardines, and other oily fish are the best way to increase melatonin levels.
- Nuts, particularly pistachios and almonds, contain melatonin and various minerals.
- Bananas contain melatonin, along with potassium, tryptophan and magnesium for sleep.
- Lastly, milk offers melatonin.
We recommend speaking with your pediatrician before making major dietary changes, though many of these foods can make an excellent snack for a child.
Melatonin has become an answer to insomnia for many because of its sleep-inducing effects. And while melatonin may help your child fall asleep and is considered safe by some, parents are cautioned to limit its use. There’s still plenty of research that needs to be done.
When it comes to kids, melatonin should only be considered as a short-term solution and used under medical guidance. If your child is dealing with a bout of insomnia, the emphasis should be on behavioral changes and changes to your child’s sleep hygiene. It’s also possible that there is a medical issue that needs to be addressed, as children can have obstructive sleep apnea and other medical problems keeping them up at night.