Parents who are fed up with not being able to place their kids on a healthy sleep schedule and get them down without a fight every day might feel the use of a magic pill to be appealing because they want their children to sleep, as they know it’s crucial in their development. There are even many doctors and parents who are adopting the use of melatonin as a temporary solution to their patient’s inability to get adequate sleep for cognitive and behavioral function.
I have certainly seen an uptick in posts and direct messages from concerned parents as regards the use of melatonin to improve their kids’ sleeping habits at night – but my perspective and experience in successfully getting children off melatonin while simultaneously helping them to sleep well give me pause about children popping that pill, so hear me out.
The Background on the Use of Melatonin in Children
Although some studies reveal that melatonin is beneficial to autistic children or children with ADHD, melatonin is not necessarily needed by most babies, toddlers, and school-aged kids for sleep, it’s generally more of a behavioral and boundary issue, in my experience. However, before we jump to any conclusions, let’s start with a bit more about what melatonin is.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the brain, and it exists in all human bodies. The National Sleep Foundation reveals that all other hormones accessible in the United States require a prescription with the expectation of melatonin. The U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 permits the sale of melatonin as a dietary supplement because it is naturally available in some foods. This doesn’t need to be endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it is not regulated in the same way as drugs are.
Research from the nation’s toxicologists suggests that melatonin because it’s a hormone, can possibly affect growth, puberty, and sexual development in children. This is echoed by The National Institute of Health (NIH), revealing that most children should avoid the use of melatonin, due to its interactions with other hormones that can also affect development. Side effects of its use include night terrors, drowsiness, and stomach aches. There are no concrete findings either way around its safe use/danger, as it’s relatively new in the realm of sleep supplements, so the long-term use/exposure is something that we may not have clear results on for many years to come.
Should I Give My Kid Melatonin?
That is a personal choice for your family. Does it work as a temporary solution to help with sleep? Yes, for many families it does, however, in my experience as a sleep consultant, I would explore other factors that could be contributing to their sleep challenges.
- Is the timing of their day off? Children between the age of 3 through 5 years old need 10 to 13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, according to the AASM. If they are not getting that, or they are staying awake too late, that can cause a build-up of sleep pressure, firing the hormone adrenaline and cortisol – causing your little one to appear wired and hyper at bedtime. You then supplement with the hormone Melatonin and it’s hormone soup.
- Is there too much stimulation to settle at bedtime? Ensure you have a consistent routine and plan for a bedtime no later than 8pm in most homes, to balance the waking for school at typically between 6:00 am and 7:00 am – which is age-appropriate. Children should be waking on their own, refreshed, vs. needing to be woken-up. If that’s the case, and you have to wake them, bedtime is too late, so dial things back a bit.
- How much blue-light exposure are they having? The use of devices, like a TV, tablet, or phone is growing, especially with children on Zoom for hours each day. Blue-light is a stimulant, it causes the brain to ‘fire-up’ vs. calm down, making it hard to settle for bedtime when their mind is going full-steam. My suggestion is to limit screen exposure a hour before bedtime, to ensure there is time to cool the engines.
The balance of healthy sleep hygiene, routine and habits can all play a role is how a child goes to sleep and how well they sleep through the night. What is happening when they wake? Are they looking for engagement from you, like a tuck-in or cuddles, perhaps they prefer your bed over their own? Do they just want you to lay with them for hours, get them a drink or want to play at 3:00 am?
Many of the children I work with in my private sleep coaching / consulting can successfully build healthy sleep habits without the need for supplementation of melatonin to get there, especially because it’s just a short term fix in most cases. I work uniquely with families to assess and understand what is happening in the daytime, at bedtime and overnight – to build a program that is going to align to their sleep needs while also filling their ‘cup’ from an attention standpoint, balancing behavior/boundaries with love and support. As parents, we all just want what’s best for our children, and for some, Melatonin may work for your family. For some, it has stopped working or they want to find another way to balance the sleep happening in their home.
If you believe melatonin for your kids are what you need to set them up for sleep – work alongside your Pediatrician to balance the dosage for their age and weight, to ensure they are getting the proper amounts.
If you wish to learn more about whether private coaching or a phone consultation could be what you need to balance sleep in your home, I welcome you to set-up a preliminary sleep evaluation and allow me to learn more about your unique sleep struggles and if I may be able to help.
Courtney Zentz is the nation’s leading Baby Sleep Expert and Founder of Tiny Transitions. Her background as a Pediatric Sleep Specialist, Lactation Counselor, Postpartum Doula, and Sleep Coach to her team of Sleep Consultants around the world provides parents with a solution to their sleep struggles, that is backed by science and balanced with your love and support. If you are struggling with sleep in your home remember, we offer Free Sleep Before & After calls, so you can learn what a Sleep Coach does and how working with us can help you, if that’s the right choice for your family.
The mission at Tiny Transitions is to teach healthy sleep hygiene and parenting education to parents and their babies, toddlers, and young adults who struggle to sleep well. Courtney resides just outside Philadelphia, with her husband Adam and two children, Max and Sovella. She has always felt passionate about making sleep & healthy living a priority in her family’s life and Tiny Transitions looks forward to working with you.
Her team of Certified Sleep Consultants, the Slumber Squad, offers in-home and virtual consultations, depending on the location. Today, we cover Dallas, TX, Austin, TX, Nashville, TN, Paducah, KY, Long Island, NY, New Jersey, Philadelphia, PA, Tampa, FL, Des Moines, IA, Huntsville, AL, St. Louis, MO, but can travel in the home to support your sleep needs for a fee, based on the work and duration of the stay.