For overtired parents who struggle to get their kids on a healthy sleep schedule, the promise of a magic pill can be really enticing.
Lately, I am seeing that more and more doctors and parents are turning to melatonin as a Band-Aid for sleep issues with their children. I get emails and messages frequently from people telling me they are giving their little ones melatonin to help them fall asleep at night, and I have serious concerns about this.
To be blunt: Melatonin is NOT a long-term solution for 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 practices.
Here are the Facts, backed by science
While some studies have shown that melatonin can be helpful in some ways: dealing with jet lag, navigating Daylight Savings Time (If your area does this), assist children on the spectrum or children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the truth is that most babies and children do not need melatonin; they need to be taught good, independent sleep skills.
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by your pineal gland, housed in the 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. 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 pains.
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.”
Sleep can be Taught!
There’s no need to put your kids at risk just to get them down for the night. The reality of the situation is that children need to be taught to how to sleep properly — and being their child’s first educator, parents are the perfect candidate for the job.
The job of teaching your little one how to fall asleep independently and manage their own nightwakings well, along with taking solid naps can feel really daunting and riddled with potential failure. If this is you, sign up for a time to speak with me – I can help make this process successful and support you the entire time.
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.