For overtired parents who can’t seem to get their kids on a healthy sleep schedule, the promise of a magic pill can be pretty enticing. It seems that more and more doctors and parents are turning to melatonin as a Band-Aid for sleep issues with their children, which I have some serious concerns about.
Here is why. Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by your 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.” The idea of giving a child "hormone therapy" seems absurd to me when there are several natural remedies that can be addressed first.
You also need to remember that almost everything we consume in a pill form has some kind of side effect. 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 ache. 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.”
Melatonin is NOT a long-term solution to 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 while some studies have shown that melatonin can be helpful for children with autism or ADHD, most babies and children do not need melatonin; they need to be taught good, independent sleep skills. We also need to make sure that bedtime routines and sleep environments are conducive to sleep so melatonin can work for us, not against us.
There’s no need to put your kids at risk just to get them down for the night. The plain truth is, children need to be taught to sleep properly, and it’s up to you, Mom and Dad, to show them how.
Take Away: Always consult with your doctor or pediatrician before giving your child melatonin. Also make sure you assess your child's bedtime routine, exposure to screens (blue light), diet, and exercise.
If you are an exhausted parent and have tried everything to get your baby, toddler, or child to sleep, I'd love to help before you resort to melatonin. I offer free 15-minute Discovery Calls so we can chat about your situation. You have nothing to lose, except more sleep!