Sometimes you just want your child to sleep. And that is a totally understandable want. And it might have you thinking is Melatonin is a good option for that, especially if you're back from traveling, you are trying to do all the right things, but it just doesn't seem to be working fast enough or at all that sort of thing.
So this episode is all about what melatonin is naturally within our body, and then some information about melatonin supplements.
I will preface this by saying all of this is just for information only. I am not giving any diagnosis, I am not giving any sort of medical advice. I 100% highly recommend that you talk to your pediatrician, your doctor before you use any form of melatonin or any form of supplementation or medication for your child when it comes to well, really anything. But you know, since I talked mostly about sleep, as it pertains to your child's sleep, so if this is even after listening to this episode [or reading it], no matter which way you sway at the end, this has something to come to your pediatrician about specifically for your child.
This is again just for informational purposes, and just to kind of get those wheels turning in your brain.
So let's get to it.
Today's episode is brought to you by the perfect sleep environment checklist. In this checklist, you'll have everything you need to know about how to make your child's room the most sleep-inducing space there is. So to get that checklist, please go to www.goodnightfamilies.com/room. And also you can use this checklist for your own room. Win-win.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness. It's often referred to as the sleep hormone, though a more appropriate name would be The Darkness hormone because other animals secrete melatonin in response to darkness as well, not all of them fall asleep. Some are waking up - nocturnal animals. Either way, it helps with the circadian rhythms of our bodies, which are the various changes every system of our bodies goes through in a 24 hour period. But for us, Melatonin is a central part of our sleep-wake cycle.
Since melatonin production is mostly stimulated by light, our exposure to natural and artificial light plays a major role in how much our body produces some other ways to naturally boost our melatonin production, our good sleep routines, and optimal sleep environment and together that is called sleep hygiene. And then another way is to eat melatonin-rich foods like eggs, fish nuts, and some mushrooms cereals in germinated legumes and seeds.
But since we live in a fallen world, not everyone's melatonin production happens as it should, even with all the “right things” and even still, even with all the right things and your pineal gland is secreting melatonin as it should sometimes when we travel, changes in seasons, that sort of thing can really affect our melatonin production. So sometimes we question if maybe a melatonin supplement is something to consider, and today, specifically in regards to our children.
What is a melatonin supplement?
It’s a synthetic form of melatonin that mimics our own naturally occurring melatonin with either a hypnotic effect, which is a sleep-inducing effect, that happens typically with a larger dose of three to five milligrams given shortly before bedtime, or a chronal biotic effect, which is a shift in the body's circadian rhythms in hopes to help sleep occur earlier. This typically happens when the synthetic melatonin is given in a much smaller dose like half a milligram earlier in the evening.
Studies have suggested that the use of synthetic melatonin does not suppress the body's natural production of the hormone. So that is a perk.
The question then is do they actually work? In some studies, it's been shown to slightly improve how quickly children fall asleep and the total amount of sleep that they have. Even so, most of these studies were small and short. But here's what the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has to say,
“A 2019 review looked at 18 studies of melatonin supplements that included a total of 1,021 children. Most of the studies were small, and all were relatively brief, one to 13 weeks. Overall, the studies showed that melatonin was better than a placebo for improving both the time to fall asleep and total sleep. The effects of melatonin on behavior and daytime functioning, however, weren't clear. Because the studies use different ways to measure those outcomes. Here’s a brief review of melatonin's short-term effects for children with specific conditions.
Children with autism fell asleep 37 minutes earlier and slept 48 minutes longer.
Children with ADHD fell asleep 20 minutes earlier and slept 33 minutes longer.
Children with atopic dermatitis fell asleep 6.8 minutes earlier and slept 35 minutes longer.
And children with chronic sleep-onset insomnia fell asleep 24 minutes earlier and slept 25 minutes longer.”
All of this is in addition to behavioral interventions, so healthy sleep hygiene and those foods mentioned before. It doesn't mean that only children with these disorders are the ones that are taking it, though.
There are other reasons, like traveling and daylight saving time, that interfere with our child's sleep and we might consider giving them some melatonin. But, before considering that talk to your doctor.
When Not to consider Melatonin?
But here are some things that your doctor would let you know when it comes to whether or not your child to take it.
if your child is under the age of three, do not use melatonin
if there's any sort of underlying physical condition causing poor sleep like sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome. Do not use melatonin.
If insomnia is situational, like if there's anxiety around a new sibling or you'll be moving or starting a new school, then melatonin is not recommended.
And then if insomnia is short-term, like with illness or traveling, melatonin is typically not recommended.
With that information, I don't personally recommend melatonin supplementation without the guidance of a doctor or a medical sleep specialist for a couple of reasons:
There are uncertainties about what dose to use, and when to give them to your child.
There are also uncertainties about the effects of melatonin over long-term periods.
Whether or not melatonin benefits really outweigh possible risks.
Because Melatonin is a hormone it's possible that melatonin supplements could affect hormonal development, including puberty, menstrual cycles, and overproduction of the hormone prolactin. It's been shown to affect animals and studies but we just don't know for sure.
Melatonin is regulated as a dietary supplement. But this means that it is less strictly regulated by the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) than it would be if it were a prescription or even an over-the-counter drug. In several other countries, melatonin is available only with a prescription and is considered a drug.
Another concerning thing is that some melatonin supplements may not contain what's listed on the product label. A 2017 study tested 31 different melatonin supplements bought from grocery stores and pharmacies. For most of the supplements, the amount of melatonin in the product did not match what was listed on the product label. This variability was found across brands and even between one lot to another within any given brand. Also, 26% of the supplements contain serotonin, which is a hormone that can have harmful effects even at a relatively low level. It's also good to know that many nonsleep products may contain melatonin as a secondary ingredient. Two examples of that are children's nighttime cough syrup or relaxation drinks. So just always be sure to check the label.
To wrap it up, if your child doesn't suffer from a neurodevelopmental disorder, I say it's safer to just go the truly natural route and work on good sleep hygiene and integrating more nutritionally dense foods. And if sleep is a major concern for your child, and you're doing all the right things, definitely reach out to your doctor because there may be some form of an underlying physical condition like sleep apnea, restless leg, that sort of thing.
If the doctor gives you the all-clear, there are no underlying physical conditions, you are more than welcome to reach out to me! I would be happy to help you with your sleep struggles. You can schedule a free call here to find out if we’d be a good fit to work together!