Melatonin: The bad & the ugly
I was totally amazed standing in the drug store searing for a children’s cough syrup. SO many different types, brands, and promises. I decided to go a different route this time, and picked up a bottle of “natural” cough syrup for my little girl. Reading the label it sounded like a great idea: honey, ivy extract…and melatonin.
Since when are hormones in cough syrup?!
I put it down and searched for one without the “M” stuff.
Personally, I have a big issue with giving children melatonin.
Yes, for overtired parents who can’t seem to get their kids on a great sleep schedule, the promise of a magic solution can be pretty enticing!
But it seems to me that more and more doctors and parents are turning to melatonin as a Cure-All for sleep issues with their children. I’ve had countless people tell me they are giving their children melatonin to help them fall asleep at night, and I have serious concerns about this.
Melatonin is NOT a long-term solution to poor sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits need to be learned at a young age 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 or children with ADHD, most babies and children do not need melatonin. What they need instead is to be taught solid, independent sleep skills.
What’s melatonin anyways?
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by your brain and is present in every person’s body.
So if it’s natural, why shouldn’t I give it to my kid?
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. 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 noted side-effects can include headaches, drowsiness and stomach ache. (Source)
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.”
Okay Becca, what now?
A little known fact is that blue-light blocks the release of melatonin. So shut down TVs, phones, tablets…any screen!..one hour (or two) before bed. This will help your child’s natural melatonin to take over and get them ready to sleep.
There’s no need to put your kids at risk just to get them down for the night. The plain truth is, children need to be taught to sleep properly and it’s up to you, Mom and Dad, to show them how.
If your child wakes up all throughout the night, it’s not a melatonin issue. It’s a sleep issue. I am confident that together we can find a solution to help your child fall asleep, and stay asleep, all night. Let’s talk about your current story and make a plan for change.
Your Pediatric Sleep Consultant
Certified Child Sleep Specialist
Owner, Little Z's Sleep