Everybody needs sleep. Sleep can play a significant role in maintaining the overall health and well-being of every person. Lack of sleep can affect a child’s ability to learn and pay attention in school. Furthermore, lack of sleep may cause obesity and other health issues in children. To combat this problem, many people turn to melatonin. The question that bothers many parents globally is this: Is melatonin safe for kids?
Despite the importance of sleep, approximately 75 percent of school-aged kids do not get enough of it. Go to any sleep clinic, and melatonin inevitably comes up. Melatonin is an important way to treat sleep disorders in both children and adults because it’s derived naturally. However, many people think that it’s safe for everyone to use, even if it is unsupervised.
In countries that belong to the European Union, New Zealand, and Australia, you need a prescription to get melatonin. There’s no question that melatonin might solve a parent’s problem with their child’s sleeping dysfunction. However, many people have been turning to this drug just because they want an immediate solution to their problem. Let’s get to the critical question: Is melatonin safe for kids?
What Parents Should Know About Melatonin
Before we tackle “is melatonin safe for kids,” it is essential to know what melatonin is. Our bodies make melatonin, a hormone, within the pineal gland. The suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain’s hypothalamus controls its secretion. Melatonin regulates the circadian rhythm of the body, which is a 24-hour cycle switching between drowsiness and waking up. This cycle determines not only our sleeping patterns, but our eating patterns, body temperature, blood pressure, immune function, and cortisol levels as well.
Melatonin is also called the sleep hormone because it aids the body in going to bed by setting the internal clock. In the evening, the melatonin level increases. This increase in melatonin is how our body knows that it’s time to go to bed. Melatonin levels start to decrease before we start to wake up. People take melatonin to help them with various issues such as jet lag, sleep disorders related to mental health, insomnia, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and complications associated with the circadian rhythm.
About Melatonin Supplements
Unlike the melatonin in our bodies, the melatonin that you can buy in drugstores is synthetic. So this complicates the answer to the question — is melatonin safe for kids?
The FDA doesn’t regulate melatonin sold in pharmacies because it’s a supplement. Since initially discovered, melatonin sales have skyrocketed. Recent statistics estimate that over 3.1 million Americans use melatonin.
How Effective Is Melatonin?
Many people with sleeping disorders think that melatonin is a miracle drug. And so parents wonder whether or not it can be an excellent supplement for their child. There have been several studies that suggest that children fall asleep better because of melatonin, as well as improve their quality of sleep. In a 2017 study, researchers found that melatonin is more effective in decreasing the time it took for kids to fall asleep compared to a placebo. It was even more effective than light therapy. Melatonin was also proven to help children with epilepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Despite these positive results, sleep disorders are usually very complex and caused by many external factors. So, it’s often difficult to find a one-fits-all solution. For instance, your child might not fall asleep easily because he or she has an undiagnosed condition. Although melatonin can be an effective solution for sleep disorders, the question remains unanswered: Is melatonin safe for kids?
Melatonin Dosages for Children
There have been many studies that prove how melatonin can be useful in children. Kids don’t need more than 3 to 6 milligrams of melatonin. Some children should even take as little as 0.5 milligrams. Other kids take between 1 to 3 milligrams. However, the optimal dosage and treatment duration is still unclear. It’s best to give the lowest dose possible and work up to increase your dosage over time.
If you want your child to take melatonin, it’s best to administer it 30 to 60 minutes before they go to bed.
Side Effects of Melatonin
According to many studies, melatonin is safe to give to children in the short-term. But is melatonin safe for kids overall? It can still have some side effects on the users. Side effects of the use of melatonin in children can include bed wetting, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, excessive sweating, abdominal pain, sweating, nausea, vision issues, laziness during the daytime, and many more. However, these side effects stop after the treatment ends. So, there are limited signs of any long-term damage or difficulties.
If your child has sleep issues, you may consider melatonin the easiest way to solve your problems. However, you should be able to answer the question “is melatonin safe for kids?” first.
There are so many ways to help kids fall asleep better. Children aged 3 to 5 years old should be getting 10 to 13 hours of sleep, including naps. On the other hand, children who are 6 to 12 years old should be sleeping from 9 to 12 hours per day. Adolescents from 13 to 18 years old should be sleeping 8 to 10 hours.
As a parent, letting your kid take melatonin every single time they cannot go to sleep will send them a dangerous message that if they cannot sleep, they should always take a pill. So, here are a couple of methods you can try if you want to skip melatonin.
Make sleep a priority for the entire family
It’s a common problem for many families to be lax with bedtimes, especially when parents are busy. However, parents need to enforce sleeping times for their children and treat sleep with its due importance. Children spend over 40 percent of their time sleeping. If parents don’t make sleep a priority, it can affect not only the well-being of their child but also their academic and social performance.
Set up a pre-bedtime routine
Without a doubt, people can still fall asleep even if they don’t have a bedtime routine. However, a sleeping habit can shorten the time they require to fall asleep after the lights are turned off. Since many people, including children, cannot sleep on command, a routine will help their brains know that it should be preparing for sleep.
Neurologists suggest that just like our neurophysical systems, our sleep system likes consistency and predictability. Bedtime routines should be utilized at least an hour before bedtime. This consistency will significantly lower the activity level of the child and let the nervous system know that it’s time to relax. Running around or watching TV shows can make the body’s transition to sleep difficult.
To set a routine, select a time. Your child can adjust better to the routine if it follows a consistent pattern. Then, you can give them advance notice that they should be getting ready for bed. Putting their toys away or running the bath water will effectively signal that the time has come. You can also offer your child a light snack that has carbohydrates or protein. The carbs will help your kid get sleepy. On the other hand, proteins will keep their blood sugar stable until they wake up for breakfast.
You can also try having your child take a warm bath to raise their temperature. Choose a comfortable pair of pajamas that they can wear to bed. Some other ways to ensure they get a good night’s sleep is to play soft music, get rid of juice or other beverages before bed, and keep the last goodnight greeting short.
Use the bed only for sleeping
Your child may not realize it, but their bed might be their favorite object in their room. It’s where they can play, do their assignments for school, and enjoy getting sleep. However, they should only use their bed for sleeping. That’s because having lots of distractions in their bed will prevent them from dozing off. Their body and mind should be able to recognize their bed only as a place to rest. Limiting the things they do on their beds can improve their well-being by ensuring a restful sleep.
Do not let kids have screen time before sleeping
More children are becoming addicted to technology. Researchers have discovered a link between screen time and poor quality of sleep. And when children don’t get enough rest, they become cranky and temperamental. So, excess screen time can affect your child’s sleep in many ways. Additionally, screen time engages the brain with information that may trigger a hormonal response, such as adrenaline, which can hamper your kid’s ability to sleep well.
Furthermore, screens for TV, mobile phones, and other gadgets emit all colors of light. Of all these, the blue light emissions increase our alertness and subdue the release of melatonin. This reaction makes us more alert during nighttime.
Parents should be limiting the screen time of their kids two hours before going to bed. They can even opt to have a “no devices in the bedroom” rule. Additionally, if you want your kids to stay active, you can replace screen time with exercise time. Not only that, screen time can make kids feel sleepy in the morning. So, exercise time instead of screen time helps children have a fulfilling day.
Children who have limited screen time and at least 9 hours of sleep have been found to have higher cognition. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should have less than an hour of screen time per day, while those who are 5 to 12 years old should have no more than 2 hours of screen time per day.
When Should You Forego Melatonin Use?
Before giving your child melatonin, try to find out the root cause of why he or she is not sleeping well. By knowing the answer to is melatonin safe for kids, knowledge will tell you that you should avoid melatonin unless you have exhausted other alternatives to give your child a better night’s sleep. You should also forego its use if insomnia persists and is only temporary. If a short-term illness or physical cause is the reason behind sleeping difficulties, or if your child is under 3 years old, look for alternative solutions. And always consult with your child’s pediatrician first.
See a Doctor
Parents who are considering giving their child melatonin should always consult a doctor. Seeing a pediatrician will help you weigh your options and will tell you if melatonin is safe for your child. Furthermore, any medical practitioner will explain the essential concerns before pushing through with treatment. One of the things you need to consider is that melatonin can interact with other drugs for blood clot disorders, diabetes, and even high blood pressure. Your family doctor will provide all the critical medical information you need to consider.
The Need for More Research on Melatonin
The prevailing question of “is melatonin safe for kids?” can be answered only by research. There have been a number of studies that indicate that the use of melatonin short term is safe for everyone. However, this is not the case with long-term use. Because it has some side effects for children, more research about its long-term use is needed. And again, always consult your doctor first.
Additionally, concerns posed by some studies in animals show that the supplement can mess with puberty-related hormones. While this is a valid concern, it’s important to note that there is little information on the long-term effects of the supplement in children. The concentration of melatonin can also differ from product to product, and this could also impact the effectiveness and safety of children taking melatonin.
So Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
Everyone needs quality sleep to live a healthy life. The question “Is melatonin safe for kids?” will always be in the minds of parents. While it has been proven to help kids overcome sleeping issues, you should only consider it after you consult with a medical practitioner or health care provider. No parent should medicate their child without trying alternative treatments first.
The goal of every parent and doctor is to help your child sleep better by using the minimum amount of medication. However, many children, especially those who suffer from developmental issues or autism, cannot sleep without the help of mediation. For these cases, melatonin may be a good option.