Sleep is vital for people of any age to stay healthy. For children, a lack of sleep can make them cranky, irritable, and cause trouble in school. Tired teens might be unsafe while driving. Kids who don't get enough sleep over the long term might be at higher risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.
There are some simple changes parents can make to encourage good sleeping habits. Regular bedtimes, keeping bedrooms dark and quiet, and limiting screen time in the evening will all help kids fall asleep easier.
When those things don't help children fall asleep or stay asleep, parents might wonder about using the supplement melatonin to help their kids get more rest.
Learn about melatonin and if it's safe for children.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone our brains produce naturally. It is linked to feeling sleepy and being able to fall asleep. We usually have a low level of melatonin circulating during the day. Then, our brains produce more of it close to the time we should go to sleep.
The melatonin in supplements is similar to the kind our brains already make. Taking a small dose of it an hour or so before bedtime can help signal to our brains and bodies that it's time to go to sleep.
What Does Melatonin Do?
Research has shown that taking melatonin supplements is especially helpful for people who have specific sleep problems. It's useful in resetting your body from jet lag. It can help people who have trouble falling asleep if they are anxious about something like surgery.
Melatonin can help make children feel sleepier before bedtime. This helps them wind down and go to sleep earlier than they would without the supplement.
Melatonin is especially helpful in helping kids with specific health or behavior conditions, including:
Children who have these issues tend to have trouble falling asleep on their own. Melatonin supplements help them get to sleep more easily.
Is Melatonin Safe?
There haven't been many studies of melatonin use in children. However, the evidence we do have suggests that melatonin should be safe for kids. Scientists looked at a small group of kids who took melatonin regularly for 3.7 years. The researchers said none of the children had negative side effects from the supplement.
The Central Ohio Poison Center reports that they manage over 500 cases of unintentional ingestions of melatonin each year. The kids have not had problems from taking the supplement, even if they take more than the recommended dose.
Side Effects From Melatonin
People don't usually have any side effects from taking melatonin supplements. The effects people have had were mild and included:
How Much Melatonin Should I Give My Child?
Melatonin dosage is a question to discuss with your pediatrician. In general, children don't need a high dose. Sometimes, doses as low as .5 milligrams are enough. You should talk to your child's doctor about their specific needs. Your doctor will want to rule out serious health problems before recommending melatonin.
Your pediatrician can also help you decide what time to give your child melatonin. It's usually best to give it to your child about 90 minutes before bedtime, but you and your doctor can decide what will work best for your family.
Ask your doctor what brand of melatonin to buy. The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements like melatonin, so the quality can vary. Your doctor can suggest a trustworthy brand that has chewable tablets or gummies that are easy for kids to take.
Other Sleep Tips for Parents
While melatonin can be a helpful tool for getting your kids the sleep they need, there are other ways that parents can try to encourage healthy sleep habits.
- Older children and teens should avoid naps during the day.
- Set regular bedtimes and wake-up times to help regulate your child's body clock.
- Avoid screen time at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light from tablets or monitors can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Have dinner at least 2 hours before bedtime and avoid food and drinks with caffeine.
- Make sure bedrooms are quiet and dark.
- Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature. Bedrooms shouldn't be kept too warm.
- Have a soothing bedtime routine to help children wind down before sleep.
If your child has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, call your pediatrician for advice and ask if melatonin supplements might help.