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According to recent news reports, more and more parents are giving their kids melatonin supplements. Is this a safe way to combat sleep difficulties? And what are the long-term risks? Here’s what every parent should know about melatonin supplementation in children.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland within the brain. Melatonin has been linked to the body’s circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle. When it starts to get dark, the brain releases melatonin into the bloodstream, causing you to feel drowsy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some research indicates that melatonin supplements might be useful in treating jet lag and sleep problems in certain people. You can purchase melatonin supplements in liquids, pills and chewables. You can find them in synthetic and natural forms. The natural varieties are derived from the pineal glands of animals.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
According to the Mayo Clinic, although melatonin has been shown to be effective for treating sleep difficulties in adults; it hasn’t been carefully studied in kids. Due to the risk of potentially harmful side effects and the lack of scientific studies, the supplement is not recommended as a sleep aid for young kids and teens.
Melatonin supplements are known to cause a range of unwanted side-effects in certain people. These include daytime sleepiness, headaches and dizziness. Less commonly, melatonin can cause more serious side-effects, including anxiety, abdominal pain, confusion, irritability and feelings of depression. This is part of the reason supplementation is not recommended for kids.
Another concern centers on how melatonin affects the body beyond sleep. The neurochemical also plays an important role in the way a young person’s body matures sexually. While it’s not completely understood, melatonin levels are known to have an impact on how the testes and ovaries function.
Further research is needed to determine if melatonin supplementation during childhood or the teen years might have an impact on a person’s long-term sexual development.
A Safer Way to Improve Sleep
According to research, the long-term safety profile for melatonin supplementation in children has yet to be established. Until it is proven safe, parents should look toward natural ways to combat childhood sleep difficulties. This includes establishing consistent, regular times for sleep and waking. To promote healthier, more reliable circadian rhythms, children should go to bed and wake up at around the same time every single day, even on weekends.
Likewise, kids should limit their consumption of caffeinated beverages, especially within six hours of bedtime. Since screen time has been shown to disrupt sleep cycles, it’s also a good idea to avoid television, tablets and smartphones within at least an hour of bedtime.