If you have young kids, then it is easy to understand why you would want them to have a restful night’s sleep with the help of a bit of melatonin.
But is it healthy to give a synthetic hormone to babies, toddlers, or even young children to help them (and parents) have a good night’s sleep? Experts weigh in….
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, and if you are not sure where it is —- it is found deep in the center of the brain. The hormone rises and falls in sync with night and day.
“Melatonin is triggered by light and dark,” said Dr. Steven H. Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “The response of the normal brain in the dark or the evening is to produce more melatonin which [facilitates] sleep onset.”
The light of day suppresses melatonin production which helps ease you into wakefulness.
Melatonin supplements are designed to mimic the natural hormone. And while there is a plethora known about melatonin supplement use in adults, it is not studied as much in children. That being said, it is agreed upon by experts that children under age 3 should not be given melatonin.
While it is not known just how much melatonin is the correct amount, if you do turn to melatonin supplementation, it is recommended you start low.
“If a parent has noticed that their child is having great difficulty falling asleep despite excellent sleep hygiene and a great bedtime routine, it may be reasonable to purchase over-the-counter melatonin, and try 1 to 3 mg for up to one or two weeks,” says spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Dr. Shalini Paruthi, as well as the co-director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital and adjunct associate professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
So what do the studies say?Most studies into melatonin in children have only looked at it for short periods of time.
And while for temporary use, the research indicates that it’s generally safe, it can cause side effects like headaches, dizziness, agitation, and bedwetting. These symptoms usually go away when the melatonin is stopped.
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, it is recommended that parents try melatonin supplements for their children only after talking with a pediatrician.
“Melatonin may not be the right approach for some underlying sleep problems like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome,” said Dr. Kori Flower, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
At the end of the day, if you are ultimately sold on giving your child melatonin, be sure to consult with their pediatrician before doing so as it could affect their development.
“Melatonin in low doses for a short amount of time may be safe for some children,” Paruthi said. “Unfortunately, there is a lack of large randomized controlled trials across the different development stages in children, so at this time, we are not able to definitively say which children will benefit from melatonin and how safe it is in terms of possible short-term or long-term side effects.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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