For overtired, exhausted parents, the thought of a magical remedy that will solve your child's sleep problems is very enticing. I have had some parents share with me that they have used melatonin to help their child fall asleep. And I get it. When you are desperate for some sleep or exhausted from bedtime battles you will do anything to help your child get some sleep. Personally, I am not an advocate for melatonin to solve sleep problems for many reasons. It is a temporary solution for the time being, but a band-Aid solution is not going to bring long-term sleep success. I believe in getting to the root of the issue and using evidence-based solutions to solve your child’s current sleep struggles AND build skills they will use for the rest of their life!
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by our body to help us sleep. Often referred to as the sleepy hormone, melatonin production is triggered by exposure to light. Melatonin increases in the evening to make the body feel sleepy and peaks later in the night to help the body stay asleep. As morning approaches, melatonin decreases to help the body begin waking up for the day. It truly is an amazing process and controlled each day by the body’s exposure to light!
Let’s look at some reasons why you should avoid giving your child melatonin supplements:
1. Short term side affects of melatonin use in children include headaches, morning or daytime drowsiness, increased bedwetting or nightmares, dizziness and even mood changes. While more research is needed on long-term side affects, some research indicates melatonin use could also impact puberty-related hormones in later years.
2. Melatonin may help with the onset of sleep, but there is no evidence that it will prevent your child from waking through the night.
3. Long-term side affects of melatonin use in children is largely understudied. Sleep is only one body function affected by melatonin. Other functions include regulating body temperature, blood pressure, cortisol levels, and sexual and immune function. More research needs to be done in order for health professionals to determine the safety and efficacy of long-term use and how this may affect children’s hormonal development.
What you can do instead of offering a Melatonin supplement:
1. Have a consistent bedtime routine.
Research has shown having a consistent bedtime routine often results in your child going to bed earlier, falling asleep more quickly, waking less frequently through the night, and sleeping for longer stretches. A bedtime routine is a great way to help your child wind down and differentiate playtime from sleep time. Check out this blog for more on how to create a bedtime routine you can start tonight!
2. Get outside.
Melatonin is naturally produced with less light exposure. As the sun sets and it becomes darker outside, our body is triggered to begin producing melatonin. After dinner, take an evening walk or simply play in the yard for 15 minutes before heading in for their bedtime routine. This is also a great opportunity for them to get out any extra energy they had stored up from the day.
3. Turn off screens 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Blue light emitted from screens suppresses the production of melatonin, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime and opt for some quieter activities instead. Maybe you do a family game night, spend some time reading books, or have a shadow puppet show! Use this screen-less time to spend some quality time together, making memories and winding down for the day.
Changing your habits is your best tool! Melatonin may be an easy short-term solution, but it will not last. Creating and teaching healthy sleep habits will last AND your child will carry these skills with them through all stages of their life. It is never too late to start!
If your child has been struggling with sleep, I would love to help! When we work together I will get to the root of your sleep struggles and provide you with a step-by-step action plan to build life-long sleep skills. Click here to schedule a call!
Disclaimer: Melatonin has shown to be helpful for some children with special needs or clinically diagnosed sleep disorders. However, most healthy, typically developing children do not benefit from the use of melatonin long-term.