Advise Me

Is Melatonin Safe for My Child?

Does a big school presentation have your little one up again? Are they having a hard time counting sheep? If your child is having trouble falling and staying asleep, they aren’t alone.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 15 to 25% of children and adolescents have trouble with sleep. It may not only impact your sleep (when you’re up all night with them) but it can also lead to some difficult behavioral and health problems in your child.

If you’ve tried everything in the book, from limited technology use before bed to regularly scheduled bedtimes and calming sleep routines to no-avail, you may wonder if the dietary supplement melatonin is the answer.

We spoke with Bryan Kuhn, a clinical pharmacist and poison information specialist with Banner Poison & Drug Information Center, to discuss the sleep aid supplement’s risks and benefits.

What exactly is melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland of your brain. It helps regulate our circadian rhythms—telling the body when to sleep, wake up and eat—and is usually released at night as a signal it’s time to go to bed. When your circadian rhythm gets disrupted—from things like jet lag, anxiety or insomnia—it can affect your melatonin rhythms.

The over-the-counter melatonin supplements are synthetic versions that mimics the effects of your natural melatonin, letting your brain and body know that it’s time to shut your eyes so you can relax and fall asleep easier.

For exhausted kids and parents, this hormone has become quite popular. Melatonin is the second most popular natural product used by children in the United States, second only to fish oil. Although there has been a growth in the popularity of melatonin products, since they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you may wonder if they are safe.

Is it safe?

“The short answer is yes,” Dr. Kuhn said. “The long-term data does not show that prolonged use has adverse effects on children and adults. However, as a pharmacist, I always side on the non-pharmacologic route first any time we’re dealing with a child with sleep and/or hygiene issues before reaching for meds.”

Before starting melatonin, schedule an appointment with your child’s primary care physician to rule out any other underlying health issues or sleep disorders.

“There are clinical conditions that are better addressed by the pediatrician,” Dr. Kuhn added. “You don’t want to miss a clinical diagnosis by just giving your child melatonin.”

Will my child become dependent?

Unlike other sleep medications, melatonin hasn’t been shown to cause withdrawal or other symptoms of dependency.

“Any time we take a form of what our body already produces, our body will decrease the production,” Dr. Kuhn said. “When you abruptly stop, your body needs time to reproduce levels, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with melatonin. One doesn’t have to taper off.”

Tips for helping your child sleep

Although you may have tried everything under the sun, here are some lifestyle changes you can use to help improve your child’s sleep:

  • Have dinner at least two hours before bedtime to give your body time to digest food
  • Avoid napping (or late afternoon naps for toddlers) during the day
  • Create a calming bedtime routine (i.e., warm shower, calming music) and space for them - you may want to consider blackout shades
  • While many kids depend on electronics today for homework and socializing, enforce a “no electronics policy” during their bed-time routine
  • Keep a consistent bedtime and sleep schedule
  • Practice deep breathing and meditation exercises to help calm the mind and body

Bottom line

While melatonin may seem like a cure-all for your child’s late-night troubles, consult their doctor or a sleep specialist first to rule out any underlying health conditions. Used responsibly, melatonin has low risk and side effects and has been shown to help children with sleeping difficulties. However, using it in combination with lifestyle changes and behavioral modifications will lead to the best results.

Is your child having difficulties sleeping at night? Stop the sleepless nights and speak with a Banner Health specialist.

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