Episode 82: Why Giving Melatonin to Children Isn't What I Would Do First
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Ready to Sleep Better?

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Welcome to the kids sleep show, where we help tired parents from around the world to get their children to fall asleep independently, sleep through the night and build healthy sleep habits for life. I’m your host, Courtney Zentz. Now let’s sleep together. Hello, and welcome to the kids sleep show. This week,I am chatting all about melatonin. It is such a very common thing used and prescribed by doctors, for children who are struggling to sleep. And when I say prescribed, I mean, told to us because actually Melatonin is the only hormone that is available over the counter. And the reason it’s available over the counter is because it naturally occurs in certain foods, for example, cherries, and I want to discuss this because even though it’s available over the counter, I see it is used quite frequently. And in my professional experience, it’s the first line of many pediatricians defense against toddlers who are maybe struggling a bit to sleep, when actually it’s more of a behavior rooted issue, then the inability to produce the right amount of melatonin to settle properly for bedtime. So we are diving into melatonin and my perspective of what you should do first, before you go that route, to ensure that we can try to build healthy sleep habits without having to supplement. I don’t want to sound as though people who do supplement with melatonin are doing something bad. Where I see the research is that it’s inconclusive as to what a long term supplement of a hormone that we’re putting into our bodies that’s also naturally made in our bodies does, because there are no studies frankly, for children and the long term use of melatonin. Now, in children who are on the autism spectrum, their body actually does not produce the right amount of melatonin. So it’s very common for children who are diagnosed as autistic to take melatonin supplements to help regulate their sleep wakecycles. Sothat is not what I’m discussing today I’m talking about a doctor pediatrician who kind of goes well, your toddler is not sleeping, try melatonin when in reality, it’s behavior. And oftentimes, I would say probably nine times out of 10, if not 10 out of 10 of the clients that I work with who are not on the autism spectrum and who are producing the appropriate amounts of melatonin. Don’t need to take it. And frankly, we get them off of it. And they sleep well. And they go to bed independently and they sleep through the night and you know, they wake feeling refreshed. Whereas before they were kind of weakened, still feeling pretty groggy. So I just want to chat a little bit about the behaviors and sort of what I see because you may be listening to this today and think you know what, my kid is not going down easily. They’re not sleeping well. You know, I was told to give them melatonin I don’t really want to maybe I just started melatonin or maybe I was even thinking about getting melatonin right? To help my child sleep better. And so I’m going to give you some some tools and tricks that I would tell you to start with first before you go the route of melatonin and I want to explain Melatonin is role in sleep. So it’s not a sleep aid. Okay? Melatonin is a hormone that prepares the body for sleep. Okay, essentially in a 24 hour period, your body and the levelsofthe hormones that it has are helping to regulate your circadian rhythm. So when you wake in the morning, your body is producing what’s called adenosine, that’s essentially the sleep pressure hormone. And so those numbers rise as you’re awake. And in children, they can only go a certain amount of time before the numbers peak. And they basically then get into overtired, which is why. You know a newborn can only be awake 45 to 60 minutes, and then at nine months, you can be awake about three hours. And then at 18 months, you can be awake about six hours, and your number continues to grow right as doesn’t adulthood. I get up at 5am every day, and I go to bed at nine o’clock. So at nine o’clock at night, my adenosine levels peak, okay. The next hormone is cortisol. And then also adrenaline. Those are kind of your morning cup of coffee, if you will. But they’re also something that’s omitted into your brain that kind of floods your brain if there are certain strenuous or stressful kind of things happening throughout the day, right? So you’ve got excuse me adenosine, and then you’ve got adrenaline and cortisol, cortisol, and then you have melatonin so your body produces melatonin naturally. It’s typically triggered by the darkness and our circadian rhythms and that prepares your body to go to sleep. So, think of it like the Olympics are coming up this summer, hopefully. And there’s the 100 meter dash or what have you, right? There’s the guy that fires the gun to start the race. And then there’s all the different runners. So Melatonin is actually the guy that fires the gun, he’s not running in the race, he’s just simply telling that race to get started. And that’s Melatonin is rolled in sleep.SoI wanted to explain that because a lot of times people are using and your child will fall asleep, but it’s not typically going to be something that works other than maybe a vacation over to the UK where you’ve got to, you know, adjust your timezone. Or maybe for a couple days, it’ll, it’ll do something. And then it essentially stops. And the reason is, because it is a short term kind of fix to a longer term problem. And usually that problem is rooted in behavior. So the first thing that you want to do if you’re trying to assess like, hey, do I really need to be giving this to my child? Or could there be something else going on? As look at what the actions are? Right? Is it a bit of protest? Is it a bit of, I hate to use the word defiance, or, you know, determined, I guess, determines a great word to use in certain situations, but not if you’re trying to get your child to sleep, and they’re determined not to, but, you know, it’s really about understanding what your child is seeking. Okay, and then trying to empower them to make the choice to go to bed by giving them boundaries, right, as parents, I think we all kind of suck a little bit of boundaries. Because, you know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re trying to be graceful, but at the same time, be grateful. And then we’re also trying to be balanced. And we’re also trying to be structured, and you know, there’s all these things as parents we’re trying to do. And it can be hard for kids, this is a super confusing time for them. And so the first thing that I recommend that you do is set boundaries, right? bedtime kicks off at, for example, 630, right, seven o’clock, depends on what time you put your kids down, we’ll say seven o’clock, most toddlers are falling asleep by about 730. Right. So if your bedtime kicks off at seven o’clock, then you need to set a boundary that says, hey, when you know the Alexa goes off, or when my watch goes off, it’s time to go to bed, whatever you’re doing, we drop and we go upstairs, right? with my kids, I have a timer set and every night it goes off. And that is the clue. Because it’s a sound right that it’s time to go up for bed. Another thing that I often tell my toddler clients to do is to make it fun to go upstairs. No kid wants to stop playing and go upstairs to go to bed. Right. So with my kids, I use colored bath tabs. And so I buy colored bathtubs, and I say the first one upstairs gets to pick the color of the bath. It’s super insignificant, but they love to do it. And I do Let both of them eventually pick like whoever gets up there first gets to pick first and then the second one gets to pick so they’re not feeling totally shafted. But the first one gets to pick. They like that and they basically raced each other up the stairs. Okay, so sometimes just making it fun, can help them to get upstairs with consistency. Your body clock is built on consistency. I go to bed at nine o’clock, I wake at five o’clock every day without an alarm. This morning. I heard birds chirping outside that was kind of my alarm. I was actually kind of annoyed. I hate sleeping with the window open. Because I hate noises like that, like I want to wake naturally, you know. And this morning, I heard Tweety Bird out in front of my window at like 445 I wanted to spit a thumbtack and whack them off the tree. But I didn’t. I said good morning and got up so fine. But you know, you want to wake naturally. And so that’s the thing where you have to set consistent routine with your body to know that it’s time to go to bed. If tonight they go to bed at 730. Then tonight, it’s eight o’clock then tomorrow it’s nine o’clock, and then at 630. And then it’s 730. And then they fell asleep in the car. So I just transferred them, their body clocks all over the place, and they’re still waking at the same time. And if that time is between six and seven, they’re probably overtired. Well now overtired, it’s going to trigger a tough nap, which is going to trigger a tough bedtime, which is going to trigger wakings at night, right? Like you get into this vicious cycle, and they’re all connected. So start with setting a bedtime and sticking to it. The next is setting boundaries. Frankly, a lot of clients I work with, they don’t have boundaries, and they use the term demand. My toddler demands that I read seven books like excuse me, they’re two years old, like three years old, four years old. Like they shouldn’t demand anything. Like here’s the boundary, I will read one book, or I will read no books you choose. And that word you choose is also something I do a lot with toddlers because kids want to be in control. They want to feel empowered. They want to perceive they have the choices to be the one making the decisions. So when you give them the choice that says you can choose this book or this book, that’s their only choice. There isn’t that I want that book. Oh Okay, cuz then they know the boundaries broken, right? Same with brushing your teeth, you can choose to brush your teeth, or I will do it for you. You can choose to put your pajamas on, or I will do it for you, you can choose these pajamas or these pajamas. What those pajamas? No, you can choose these pajamas, or these pajamas, right? So you’re giving kids choices and their theirchoices. They feel empowered, I got to pick one book we read, I got to pick my pajamas, I got to brush my teeth. And all the while they’re getting little rewards, right like little stickers on their chart to feel that sense of accomplishment. I start reward charts with kids as early as two years of age, because they understand it even at 18 months, they like sticking a sticker on something they don’t you know what I mean? They may not totally grasp the concept, but to them, it’s a reward. And they like that, right. And so by being consistent with their expectations, and then being consistent in the routine, after about a week, they start to go, Oh, this is just the new way it is right, you’re creating a habit loop. And so that’s where you’re kind of recreating the current habits and their body starts to get used to that and starts to prepare for what you know what it’s expected, which is next. And then your body starts to trigger that melatonin at the same time every night so kids can fall asleep and settle peacefully. Now a lot of toddler clients have the struggle where you know, Mom or Dad, you have to lay in there for three hours to get them to go to bed or rub their back or have their head or sit in their chair, whatever with them. Right? What you have to do is set the expectation that says Like, I will lay here for X number of minutes, but then I will sit in the chair, right? And so you set that boundary again. Okay, alarm goes off at five minutes, you move to the chair, don’t move to the chair. No, it’s time to go to bed, I will sit in this chair that’s sticking to the boundary. If there’s a consequence that you have to use, it’s typically because they push back on that. No, I don’t want you to Bobo. Well, okay, well, it’s not your choice, it’s time to go to bed. You either get me in the chair or not at all, I’ll leave the room. Right. And all of a sudden, you step out of that room for a minute and your child’s voice you hear the pitch change, right? Oh, shoot, that was the wrong choice. You know. And that’s the part where like, kids have to understand like the world is their oyster, but there are boundaries in it. And I think a lot of times As parents, we don’t understand that. We’re setting certain expectations, but there’s no boundaries, and there’s zero consequences. So kids do whatever the heck they want, because they can. If my husband came upstairs every night with a doughnut at three o’clock in the morning, I would eat it.I don’t need it.I’m not asking for it. But if you’re willing to throw it out there, maybe I’ll take it, right. And so I think As parents, we need to say no, this is the way it is. And then if you don’t like this choice, too bad, then I’m done good night and walk out. Right? Like, and there’s going to be a bit of that protest for a couple of days. Until they realize it’s just the new way. It is like if your toddler woke up this morning and said I want a doughnut for breakfast. Would you give it to them? Most parents wouldn’t. No kid wants to start the day with 5000 grams of sugar, right? I mean, the kids do the parents don’t. So what would happen, your kid would protest, right? They probably freak out have a little temper tantrum for a half hour on the floor crying because they wanted a doughnut, then the next day, maybe the temper tantrum would be 15 minutes and 10 minutes and five minutes. And then they’re like, Alright, I’m not going to get it done. And I’m not even gonna bother and they move on to something else. That’s exactly what you’re doing at bedtime. Okay, you need to set the boundary and then stick to it. And that’s the hardest part preparing sometimes is sticking to the boundary because they’re just tired. They want to go to bed. And it’s the same thing in the middle of the night. I use the analogy of fruit striped garden, which I love, by the way, but when you take a bite of fruit striped gum, most people my age I’m going to be 40 in about a month and a half, right? They’ve had fruit striped, gone. And so when I tell you think about what it tastes like, you go Oh, it’s amazing. It’s so fruity. You get a tattoo tastes delicious. And then one minute later, what does it taste like? cardboard. You have to be fruit striped gum at one minute to your children. They’re only engaging with you because you’re making it fun. for them. It’s attention a good attention or bad attention is still attention to a toddler. Right? So it’s about balancing attention with boundaries, frankly, right? It’s not overly complex. It’s just their body clock is going to regulate and then they are going to understand that it’s time to go to bed. A lot of times I see parents supplement with melatonin because they don’t know what else to do. And their kids are just all over the place. And go to bed. Mom has to lay there for three hours. Dad has to pat the back for three hours like they’re getting up four times in the middle of the night. And then mom has to come lay or dad has to come lay and then you know their sleep is sporadic. So then their dumpster fires during the day and it’s like you’re just not setting a boundary. The time to go to bed. That’s your choice. That’s your only choice. I’m not sitting here. I’m not laying here. I’ll stand at the door. I’ll sit in the chair. I’m not engaging with you. I’m not talking to you. I’m not touching you. I’m not doing anything that you’re seeking. Cuz that’s a reward. I need a drink, here’s a sippy cup, don’tspill it.I need a tissue, here’s a box of tissues, give them everything they need, in order to be self sufficient in the night. Here’s a spill proof sippy cup your tissues, you are welcome to get up and go to the potty there is the light on in the hallway, right? I get when they’re first potty training, you may need to help but otherwise, like, they can get up in the middle of the night pee if they have to teach them. And if they can’t yet, don’t sit in bed with them and rub their back to go back to sleep because they just crave that. You know, my son read a book the other night, and he never wakes up in the middle of the night and he just broke his arm. And he’s super upset about it. So he’s like super sensitive to the fact he can’t do anything and he can’t play sports and he’s like a sports junkie. So the other night he read a new book called Geronimo Stilton or something I don’t know some kind of mouse. I think it’s a mouse book. But it was about ghosts, right? It’s Geronimo Stilton, the mouse and then ghosts or something. And I didn’t realize that that’s what the book was, well, two nights ago, he woke up at like two in the morning came into my room, which he never does. And my husband heard him but of course, he comes to my side of the bed. Mommy, I’m scared at a nightmare can’t sleep and I’m like, for Christ’s sake. Okay. You know, so what I found out the next morning after a dumpster fire sleep for both of us then was that he had read a book about the ghosts. And you know, sometimes you have to be careful with what you’re doing with the children. And, you know, making sure that they’re reading things that are going to send them to bed with a positive mindset, not something like that. And I didn’t realize it until the next morning when I was Skyping with my husband that that’s what the book was about. And I was like, why would he say that? And then he’s like that book. I’m like, oh my gosh. So even some things is like what books you choose can be like super impactful on how well you know on how well they settled. Because you don’t you know, it’s a slippery slope, right? And if you’re like, Alright, well just get in bed with me. And then the next night they wake and they’re like, well, I got in bed with you like, let me do that again. Oh, I’m scared. What what are you scared of tonight, we read a book about fairy princesses you know, but it’s just that habit created. And they thought, Hey, this is an open, open invitation to cuddle. I’m in, right. So you have to like, you know, you get up. And it’s not fun. I don’t want to get up at two in the morning. But you get up and walk back to his room, I tuck them back and I give him a kiss. And I say it’s time to go to bed. And then last night before bed, I was like don’t do that, again. Like the ghosts are not real. You know, you need sleep because it makes you strong. And I never want a child to feel like they can’t come in the room. But I was very clear. That said basically, if you don’t need me for something don’t come in my room. You know, so I tried to set boundaries around it. I don’t want to tile that were feel scared to come in my room, but at the same time, like we’re not getting into this sort of behavior like No thanks. And so it was great. He actually just woke up as I was recording this and he’s in there watching TV now. But it’s just that balance right? It’s the balance of a boundary and keeping it and then setting that consequence. So for you, you know, as we kind of loop things back to melatonin like oftentimes I do find it’s not frankly necessary. It is more something that’s a behavior that you just have to wean off of versus supplementing with melatonin and so children for example, like cherries, frozen cherries, have melatonin in them. And you know, so if you did want to give your child something natural cherries have it. asparagus and tomatoes have melatonin pomegranate has melatonin, olives, grapes, broccoli, cucumber, like all the things that my kids eat. There are certain grains like rice and oats that have melatonin naturally occurring and then things like different nuts and seeds. Right? So what you can do is try to use something like that, you know, a different food with melatonin. Joji berries are my total favorite. I they are just like a great snack. I buy dried goji berries on Amazon. And those are amazing. They’re super good from an antioxidant standpoint. A eggs have melatonin. So that’s probably one of your better sources as well. But cherry juice is probably one of the best known sleep aids as far as naturally occurring kind of, you know, giving your kids something I’m not a huge fan of, you know, helping a kid up on juice before bed but maybe take cherry juice and make a cherry juice popsicle that they can have after dinner, right? There’s natural sugar, no added sugar. And you know that’s their treat, and it also prepares them to go to sleep. So there’s definitely different options and I’m not trying to poopoo the use of melatonin at all. I just think people overuse it I think pediatricians frankly over prescribe it because they don’t know what else to do. And so it’s a quick and easy but quote natural fix. it’s it’s a it’s a hormone like you can have to be careful you can mess with things when you start messing with hormones. So the reason it’s sold over the counter is because it does naturally Current foods, but that’s pretty much the only loophole. There’s no other hormone that sold over the counter.

So this is something I say like use caution with give this a try first. And then there may be situations where it does require additional intervention, melatonin, a sleep study, if you think your child maybe like has sleep apnea, if they’re smooth sleeping with their mouth open or they’re snoring, there’s often something more clinical going on and that you need to have assessed through, you know, an ear, nose and throat doctor. But you know, when it just comes to boundaries and habits, I would say start here, because often times it is not something where Melatonin is needed, you can stop taking it immediately. It’s not something you have to wean off of. And you can start with these new steps to get your child to sleep well. So hopefully this episode has been informative for you. And I hope you have a beautiful rest of the week. I look forward to catching you. Next time. Be sure to hit subscribe, jump out to my Facebook group slumber Made Simple and join me in there as I do a whole bunch of stuff all the time to welcome new tired parents and to support your journey to sleep. I hope everyone has a beautiful day talk soon. Hold on one more thing before you go. As the value listener of the kids sleep show, I want to help you build a great sleep or not just in the times you’re listening to the show. But all day every day. Every week of the year. I have a new Facebook group called slumber Made Simple.It’s a place to gather with other parents looking for sleep support, laughs and the latest in sleep research to build a family that is rested and at their best day in and day out.If you want to be part of the community where you can get free sleep support, weekly training sessions, unbelievable content and so much more. Head on over to tiny transitions.com forward slash community that’s tiny transition stuff comm forward slash community or head over to Facebook and search slumber Made Simple. drop me a note and let me know when you join. I can’t wait to see you there.

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