For overtired parents who can’t seem to get their kids on a healthy sleep schedule, the promise of a magic pill can be pretty enticing.
It seems that more and more parents are turning to melatonin as a Band-Aid for sleep issues with their children. Many parents are giving their babies melatonin to help them fall asleep at night, and I was one of those parents.
Rewind to the time when my own daughter Anna was almost 2 years old. I was so desperate for her to go to sleep at night and stay asleep. I had tried and read and Googled, what I thought was everything. Then one day while chaperoning my son’s field trip, his teacher and I had a conversion about our children not sleeping and our own lack of sleep. She told me about melatonin supplement as solution for sleep in her family. I thought “oh finally this is going to be the ticket!”. I called my pediatrician and was advised on the dose.
I put the proper amount of melatonin in Anna’s sippy cup. and within 30 minutes she was asleep. You would have thought that I felt elated right? This child who I would sit in the dark next to for two hours to fall asleep at bedtime and then wake at 11 pm, 1 am, 3 am and 4 am was asleep! Well I wasn’t elated. I was terrified. I sat on the couch and cried. I though what if I just drugged my baby and what if she doesn’t wake up ever - all just because I am tired.
The good and bad news. Anna did wake up and as had been her pattern she woke up several times that very night. The melatonin helped to get her to fall asleep at bedtime but it did nothing to keep her asleep throughout the night.
Here’s the deal: Melatonin is NOT a long-term solution to poor sleep habits. A healthy relationship with sleep is needed in order to set kids up for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits.
And while some studies have shown that melatonin can be helpful with autistic children, children with ADHD or children who have a legitimate melatonin deficiency, most babies and children do not need melatonin. They need appropriate schedules, bedtime routines and independent sleep skills.
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by your brain and is present in every person’s body. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “No other hormone is available in the United States without a prescription. Because melatonin is contained naturally in some foods, the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows it to be sold as a dietary supplement (e.g., vitamins and minerals). These do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or controlled in the same way as drugs.”
Dr. Johnson-Arbor, a Hartford Hospital toxicologist, says, “It’s (melatonin) possibly thought to affect growth, and to affect sexual development and puberty”. Other side-effects can include headaches, drowsiness and stomach ache.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Melatonin should not be used in most children. It is possibly unsafe. Because of its effects on other hormones, melatonin might interfere with development.”
There’s no need to put your kids at any unnecessary risk just to get them down for the night. I can tell you from first hand experience there is a solution and it’s not melatonin. The plain truth is children need to be taught the skills to sleep well and it’s up to us as parents to show them how.