The use of melatonin for children is somewhat controversial. In this article we shall consider all the variables that will assist you in making an informed decision.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone/neurotransmitter existing in the human body that is produced in the pineal gland. Melatonin plays a major role in promoting restful sleep along with naturally occurring growth hormone. Melatonin levels tend to peak in the late afternoon/ evening period, with a significant drop during the day time. This is why melatonin is believed to be responsible for regulating the natural circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) of humans. It was also found that upon exposure to light, melatonin was rapidly destroyed, lending credibility to the thought of it regulating sleep cycle.
Supplemental melatonin for children
The need for supplemental melatonin for children has not been medically verified, since it is a fact that children have the highest natural levels of melatonin. The levels of melatonin are also known to drop as we age. Nevertheless, there have been real world benefits for children using melatonin, especially in the case of autistic kids with sleep disorders. It is important however, to exercise caution and use small doses. It has also been used to some benefit for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
What is The Best Way to Give My Child Melatonin?
Melatonin, according to more than 24 studies, is safe for children and has been used with little to no side effects. However, it is advised that treatment should only be continued for a maximum of a few weeks, safety has not been evaluated for longer periods. The exact dosage that should be given is still mixed. Overall, a large range of 0.3mg to 7 mg is advised, and varies depending on who you ask. One important point to remember:
- Do not give melatonin to a child under 10 years of age.
In general, most experts agree that children between 10 and 15 should be given the minimum dose of 0.3 mg, and increased only if necessary.
As with any supplement, it is possible to have side effects when you give melatonin for children to sleep. The most commonly encountered side effects are:
- Drowsiness during day- this is the most common encountered side effect. This may occur as a result of the body’s inability to break down it during the day. If this side effect occurs it is best to either reduce the dose, or discontinue the drug completely.
- Headaches- this can be very distressing for young children, often resulting in worsened sleep patterns. This side effect is only temporary, and is hardly a reason to discontinue the drug. After a few days of use this effect should pass.
- Stomach upset- since melatonin is a depressant; it can result in a nauseating feeling. Although melatonin works best on an empty stomach, it may be necessary to give with food. Food helps relieve the stomach issues that may arise.
Who Should Not Use Melatonin?
Use of melatonin for children should be strictly off-limits when certain criteria are present. For example;
- Children with auto-immune diseases- this group of children will likely be on steroid therapy, a definite no-no.
- Diabetes- melatonin may alter the chemistry of concomitantly administered anti-diabetic medication. It can also promote insulin resistance, which leads to higher blood sugar readings.
- Use of anti-epileptics/ psychotherapeutic drugs- children being treated with drugs such as phenobarbitone or certain amphetamine drugs should never be given melatonin. This combination could likely be fatal.
The Take Home Message When Considering Melatonin for Children
It is best to give melatonin only as a last resort. The best method is to try natural tips. To help children naturally get sleep, try these;
- Avoid giving caffeinated foods or drinks before bed- caffeine serves as a wake up aid.
- Encourage a routine- have your child go to bed and rise the same time every day. This helps to develop the body’s circadian rhythm.
- Discourage use of TV or computers one hour before bed- the longer children are using these devices, the later they sleep.
It is always advised to consult your doctor before attempting to administer any medication or supplement. Have a thorough evaluation done by your doctor to have him determine the cause of the sleeping disorder.
Only then can you determine if melatonin for children such as yours is a good idea.