Let me start by saying that I do not recommend giving children any type of melatonin or other sleep products; however, I do recognize that for some children (ie those with special needs or have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder) it might be medically necessary. If you’re currently giving (or have ever given) your child melatonin products to get them to sleep faster or longer, you definitely want to read this!
Firstly, melatonin is not FDA approved, and therefore it is not regulated. This means that manufacturers don’t have to list the overdose warnings like they do for prescription drugs. Companies in the US are allowed to market to parents with kid-friendly labels and say it’s “all natural”, but that’s very misleading to parents. Believe it or not, in almost all other first-world countries, you can only get melatonin if prescribed by a doctor! Just because the US has chosen to put this product in the vitamin supplement department of stores, it does not make it safe. And yes, it’s natural when it’s produced by our bodies, but it is not natural when it’s manufactured in a lab.
There are very few studies that have been done on melatonin (again, it’s not FDA approved), and those that have been done show that long-term use can affect the body’s natural production of it. Taking too much of it can sabotage sleep and actually cause insomnia! For children specifically, it can affect puberty, disrupt menstrual cycles, and impede normal hormone development. It’s also important to note that it does not keep your child asleep throughout the night! It’s used to help bring on sleep, but again it will not keep them asleep all night. So if you’re using it because of night wakings, you can stop or wean now.
Now, all this being said, I think there could be cases where melatonin use is needed at least on occasion (again, special needs, sleep disorders, flying across time zones, etc). Before even considering it though, you really want to make sure that you’ve taken care of all of the possible behavioral and sleep hygiene issues, and ensure that your child’s routine is solid. Here are a few things to consider:
- Turn off all electronics 30-60mins before bedtime. The blue light coming from TVs, tablets, laptops, phones, gaming systems, etc can suppress the body’s natural release of melatonin. You can have quiet, relaxing play the hour or two before bed so that your child isn’t “worked up” right before you start your routine.
- Having a consistent nightly routine is a great way to cue your child’s mind and body that sleep is near.
- You should also take a close look at your child’s diet. You might be giving sugary snacks before bed that can affect how hyper your child is before bed. Sugary snacks include fresh fruit too, as it has natural sugar it. Also, keep in mind that milk has sugar in it and can give your child a boost of energy when you need for them to calm down. Crackers, grains, raw veggies, and cheese are good bedtime snacks.
- Ensure that the bedtime is correct, as well as the daytime schedule. I would hate to see you feel the need to give your child melatonin, only to find out that they just weren’t tired enough or they were overly tired.
- Many children with autism and ADHD also have sleep issues, which can leave parents desperate for sleep relief for both their children and themselves. Because of this, some parents will turn to giving their child melatonin supplements. I started this document by saying I don’t believe parents should give this to their children, except when medically necessary. Having a child diagnosed with autism or ADHD is one of those medical exceptions. But even though you feel that it might be necessary, I would ask you to consider doing 4 things first before ever giving your child melatonin:
- Look at possible vitamin deficiencies, as many of these children are lacking Vitamin D and magnesium, both of which can affect sleep. Your child’s pediatrician can order a vitamin deficiency blood test to determine what your child might need more of. Then they will be able to tell you what dosage to give your child of the deficient vitamin (if there is one), based on the results.
- Recognize that even with all of the behavioral, routine, environmental, and dietary changes that your child may just need a little less sleep than the typical child. You might find that your 4yr old only needs 9hrs of sleep overnight to feel well-rested, and that’s ok. The key is that they are well-rested. If they wake up on their own, are energized, and they can easily make it through the day without a nap or major meltdowns, then your child is likely getting enough sleep. Remember, everyone’s sleep needs are different.
- Are you sure the bedtime shenanigans aren’t just because your child wants to push the boundaries? Are they truly not tired, or are they fooling around because they know that it gets your attention? Oftentimes, it’s a behavioral issue that needs to be dealt with (like through gentle sleep training) and not that the child actually needs less sleep. And again, if they’re waking at night, melatonin is not going to help unless you re-dose them. So be sure to rule out behavioral factors that a sleep training consult/course/book and a parenting book/course couldn’t fix.
- Lastly, please check with your doctor before giving your child melatonin. I realize it’s an over-the-counter drug, but you already read what my thoughts are on the possible issues and side effects of giving it. And even if your doctor approves it for your child, I highly suggest you both start out at a super low dosage (ex: 1mg) and only give it for the shortest amount of time as possible.
I know it’s hard to deal with a child who is constantly battling you at bedtime and possibly waking throughout the night, but giving this medication is not the way to deal with it. It is beyond rewarding when you can work with your child and get them to willingly go to bed and stay there until morning because they want to. It is possible! If you need with the behavioral end of things, you can check out my one-on-one child sleep packages or my online sleep courses. You can always Contact me if you’re unsure what you need or have any questions. And don’t forget, I also teach parenting courses, so we can get your child following directions both at bedtime and throughout the day!