Sep 30 , 2019
Our bodies are apparently so much in sync with nature that when the natural world goes to rest, our body also prepares to sleep. At the end of the day, when it gets dark, a particular hormone signals the body that it is time to rest and helps you sleep.
That hormone is called melatonin. Also referred to as the sleep hormone, melatonin helps regulate the body’s clock so that we can sleep long enough and wake up refreshed. But, when the body is unable to produce enough amount of melatonin, intake of melatonin supplement may become necessary.
In this article, MomJunction tells you about melatonin for kids, its uses, dosages, and side-effects.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland, which is located right above the middle of the brain. The hormone regulates the circadian rhythm with specific sleep-wake patterns that we follow. Also known as the sleep hormone, melatonin regulates our sleep-wake patterns based on our exposure to light and darkness.
When we are exposed to light, it passes through the retina of the eye, reaches, and activates the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) (1) in the brain’s hypothalamus. The SCN sends signals to the body to control the temperature, hormones, and others functions, which keep us awake and active or sleepy and at rest, based on our exposure to light or darkness.
The SCN thus creates a fixed pattern, like clockwork, enabling us to carry out several functions during the 24-hour cycle.
So melatonin is released into the blood at around 9pm or earlier, depending on the child’s sleep cycle. But if the pineal gland is unable to do so, the child will have difficulty sleeping. This is where melatonin supplements come into the picture.
Melatonin Uses For Children
Melatonin is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement to help regulate our circadian rhythm and influence our sleep-wake patterns. Supplemental melatonin is not necessary for children with occasional sleep problems or children who can fall asleep within 30 minutes after lights are out.
But if the child has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, restless legs syndrome, or anxiety disorders that keep him awake for hours at night, melatonin can help. Sleep dysfunction can have a severe effect on the child’s health, and if your child’s sleeplessness is affecting his performance during the day, the doctor may recommend giving him melatonin supplement.
Note that melatonin only works for sleep initiation, and there is little research to show that it can help the child stay asleep (2).
However, supplements that induce sleep, may come under the radar of being safe or not.
Is Melatonin Safe For Kids?
Yes, melatonin is safe as long as a trained medical professional has prescribed it and if your child takes the right dosages. Melatonin is said to have few or no side-effects in children and works well for a short-term (3). While melatonin is not toxic, animal studies show that it may lead to delayed puberty (4).
Do not use melatonin if the child (5):
- is aged three or less
- has situational insomnia caused due to occasional anxiety (new school year, exams, etc.)
- has short-term insomnia due to ear pain or infection
- has trouble sleeping due to an underlying medical or physical condition such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea
Helping the child’s body to produce melatonin naturally is better than using the supplements. If your child has difficulty falling asleep at night, experts recommend that you try correcting the sleep behavior before trying supplements. Changing the child’s eating habits, lifestyle, and activity levels can help them develop healthy sleeping patterns. Also, you can naturally encourage the release of this hormone with diet and bedtime snacks.
Melatonin, as a supplement is not meant for children, although some doctors find that it helps children with sleep disorders caused by conditions such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. Also, note that melatonin is not regulated by the FDA nor is it approved for use by adults or children (6).
However, if your doctor has recommended the drug for your child, make sure that you are carefully following the right dosage. But how much melatonin is too much or too little?
Melatonin Dosage For Kids
Ask the doctor about the ideal dosage of melatonin for children, based on their age or weight. Children may need anywhere between 0.5mg and 6mg for sleep disorders. The exact dosage, however, will be determined based on the child’s age and weight and the sleep problem that he is having.
Like most synthetic drugs, melatonin supplement can elevate the hormone levels to a much higher degree than what is naturally produced in the body. So a typical dose of 1mg to 3mg of melatonin can increase the melatonin levels in the body up to 20 times (7).
If you plan to use the OTC melatonin supplement for your child without consulting a doctor, give him no more than 0.5mg to stay safe.
Anything over the prescribed dose can result in melatonin overdose symptoms. These include nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, headaches, drowsiness, anxiety and irritability, and joints pain.
Excess melatonin in the body can also disrupt the child’s circadian cycle.
Side-Effects Of Melatonin
Although melatonin is a natural hormone, when taken as a supplement, it can have the following side-effects.
- Drowsiness during the day
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Stomach pain
- Vivid dreams
- Lower body temperature
Melatonin supplements should be avoided by children with bleeding disorders, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and seizures as it can make the symptoms worse.
Always buy your melatonin supplements from reliable sources or pharmacies and check with your doctor before using it.
Foods Rich In Melatonin
If your child suffers from occasional insomnia or is having difficulty falling asleep long after the lights are out, then try including these foods in his diet.
- Sweet corn
- Tart cherries
- Leafy greens
Whether you are considering natural food supplements or synthetic melatonin supplements, make sure that the dosage does not exceed the daily recommended value, to avoid negative side-effects.
If your children have trouble sleeping at night, the first step would be to try and change their lifestyle and dietary habits. This helps in building healthy sleeping habits. But if sleeplessness is chronic or due to a medical condition, you can rely on the melatonin supplements as recommended by the doctor.