Is melatonin safe for children?

is melatonin safe?

Is melatonin safe for children?

is melatonin safe?

For anyone who suffers from insomnia, you may have heard of melatonin.

Melatonin was once only available via a prescription from your doctor but is now easier to come by.

There are even products targeting kids specifically.

The over-the-counter products use homeopathic or synthetic melatonin. The ones that require a prescription from your GP use synthetically derived melatonin.

As with any over the counter medicines and supplements, there are concerns associated with their purity and effectiveness as the supplement industry is not very well regulated. There are also the concerns with self-prescribing. Hence the reason why it is always best to work with a qualified health professional.

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? Check out this blog about whether your child is getting enough sleep.

So, is melatonin safe for kids to take?

Before we talk about this, let’s make sure we understand what melatonin is and the roles it plays in the body.

What is melatonin?

Our body makes melatonin naturally, and it is involved in promoting quality sleep.

It is a hormone the brain makes, and releases, to help regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

As the sun sets, the levels of melatonin start to increase and will stay high throughout the night. It naturally starts to decrease in the early morning helping you to wake up.

Melatonin is mostly known as the sleep hormone but it also has other important functions in the body such as enhancing immunity, protecting the brain and being an important antioxidant that helps regulate inflammation. 

How does our body make melatonin?

Our brain makes melatonin in a process that involves nutrients we get from the foods we eat. The main ones include tryptophan, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.

What foods contain melatonin?

Melatonin-rich foods are also available and some high on the list include pistachios, eggs, fish, milk, lentils, kidney beans, tart cherries, cranberries, bananas, mushrooms, oats, and wild rice.

A boiled egg before bed would be an ideal snack for kids with sleep issues as it is a good source of melatonin, tryptophan, zinc and B vitamins. It is also a good protein source which helps balance those blood sugar levels through the night that, when out of whack, can cause sleep issues.

Another great snack would be overnight oats with banana and nut butter.

Who benefits from taking supplemental or prescription melatonin?

Melatonin is recommended for temporary sleep problems and is not designed to use long-term.

Its benefits have been highlighted in research with children with behavioural challenges such as autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The studies, though, did find that sleep challenges returned after discontinuing it.

So is it safe?

Melatonin will help your child fall asleep but it will not help them stay asleep. If your child is waking up during the night, melatonin is not the answer.

Melatonin uses appears safe for short-term use but there is very little research on the long-term effects associated with its use in children.

How much melatonin to take?

Care is needed as melatonin taken at higher than needed amounts can result in headaches, drowsiness, dizziness and nausea.

If you try melatonin, it is recommended to reduce the dose to an absolute minimum that still gets a benefit.

Are there natural alternatives to melatonin?

We at The Paediatric Naturopath like to use a naturally-derived melatonin supplement made from plants; aka phytomelatonin.  Synthetic melatonin can be filled with by-products and contaminants that have no positive health benefits and in some case can be quite questionable. Phytomelatonin is not only a source of melatonin but also contains other beneficial substances such as antioxidants that match the functions of the melatonin our own bodies make.

The bottom line

It is most important to work with a health practitioner to ensure that other factors that may be driving or contributing to the sleep issues have been worked through and addressed.

Relying on melatonin and not getting to the root causes of your child’s sleep issues risks taking the ‘band-aid’ approach and potential unfavourable health effects by not getting to the bottom of it all.

What to try first?

An important place to start is sleep hygiene which involves creating a routine and environment conducive to sleep. You can read more about this in another blog here.

One great addition to the bedtime routine is an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salts are rich in magnesium sulphate and magnesium is a very important mineral in calming the nervous system and promoting relaxation. Soaking in the bath with a cup of Epsom salts (make sure they are magnesium sulphate flakes) and as hot as tolerable water for 10 to 15 minutes before bed can do wonders.

Magnesium is also a simple thing that can be added as a supplement at night. Though magnesium can be found in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, peanuts, almonds, brown rice, avocado and pumpkin seeds, it is often something we find deficient in the diet. As with any supplementation, it is always best to be guided by a professional to make sure you are getting a quality product and using the right dose.

The next tip would be to ensure your child is getting the morning sun to support that natural sleep-wake cycle. Get them to have breakfast outside.

Then, we need to look at diet. Not only do we need those important nutrients listed above but we also need to make sure our kids aren’t relying on refined carbohydrates and sugar through the day, and especially at dinner, that may then disturb sleep as blood sugar crashes during the night.

It is also worth thinking about worms and checking to see if they are affecting your child’s sleep. You can read more on worms here.

These are some things you can work on at home to help your child get a better night sleep.

Want to know more?

If you are still at a loss and are needing some guided support, get in contact today so we can figure out what may be at the bottom of your child’s poor sleep habits.

PMID: 34542334

PMID: 28387721

PMID: 32272607

PMID: 36976674

PMID: 33000641

PMID: 33424495

PMID: 32079061

You might also enjoy