For family harmony, happy kids, and equally happy and rested parents the amount and quality of sleep each family member has is the key. Is there help for children or teens who do not sleep well or take too long to fall asleep? Some parents say they give their children or teens melatonin to help them sleep better or fall asleep faster. What is melatonin? What do the experts say about melatonin and recommending it to kids and teens?
What is Melatonin?
It is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and although the maintenance of circadian cycles appears to be its primary function, it also carries out other roles. In this post we will focus mostly on melatonin’s use in sleep problems
A Medical News Today article written by Tim Newman says, “Melatonin carries out a vast array of tasks; it also has the potential to be medically useful in a number of conditions, including radiation exposure, Alzheimer’s disease and tinnitus.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring compound found in humans, animals, microbes and plants. In animals and humans, its levels vary during the daily cycle. It is intimately involved in regulating the sleeping and waking cycles. It is sometimes prescribed by doctors for patients with sleep problems.
A variety of sleep problems have been treated with melatonin with varying success rates. The strongest evidence for its use in sleep problems is for people whose issues with sleep are behavioral, developmental or as a result of a mental disorder.
Insomnia in children and the elderly, jet lag and delayed sleep phase syndrome (a disorder where the circadian rhythms appear to be too long) also seem responsive to melatonin.
Children with autism can have abnormal melatonin pathways and lower than normal melatonin levels. Some studies have shown that it helps improve sleep duration, reduce the time taken to drift off to sleep and reduce the number of night-time awakenings in these children. However, much of the research has been conducted using self-reported levels of improvement; more investigation in this area needs to be done.
Despite the importance of melatonin in natural sleep cycles, taking it as a supplement without an underlying condition does not seem to extend or deepen sleep. Even its evidence for advancing the onset of sleep is scant in healthy individuals.
Products containing melatonin have been available over-the-counter as dietary supplements in the United States since the mid-1990’s.
Uses of Melatonin
It is used for many reasons and the ones most often sited are:
- Insomnia in older adults
- Jet lag
- Sleep improvements
- Problems falling asleep
- Problems not sleeping long enough
- Blindness (amount of melatonin we produce is determined by how dark or light our surroundings are)
- Sleep problems in children with special needs.
Is Melatonin a Recommended Sleep Aid
for Children and Teens?
I found melatonin supplements have become popular as natural sleep aids. It helps establish normal sleep patterns to promote a more restful, relaxing sleep and better overall health. The body naturally produces melatonin, and Vitamin B6 is essential for its production. One of its most important attributes, one mom told me, is its ability to lower body temperature to induce sleep and cool down overheated systems such as those in child bipolar disorder.
It is believed that individuals with autism (ASD) might not have enough melatonin naturally or that it might be produced at the wrong time, therefore its use would be helpful. Parents should bring this up with their child’s doctor.
“These supplements will help about 20 to 30 percent of the population fall asleep more easily when given prior to bedtime,” says Dr. Craig Canapari, director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital in Connecticut. He adds that an important consideration for parents is whether they have tried everything else first, before giving the supplement. “The most effective interventions for insomnia are often behavioral,” he says. “Improving sleep hygiene, avoiding screen time in the evenings [and] limiting sleep in the afternoon and sleeping in on the weekends may be more effective over time than medication.”
I have spoken to two moms lately, one with a child with ADHD and one whose child has Tourette Syndrome, sensory and anxiety issues, both find that the supplements works well for their children… and naturally for the tired parents. Parents of developmentally delayed children or who have children with autism found that it helped their child sleep better.
On the site, Talk About Sleep, I found that the average melatonin supplement is 20 – 50 times more than we need! Some say that in children, its doses should not exceed 0.3 mg per day. On Talk About Sleep it even suggested if you are using regular tablets, you can cut the pill into fourths, otherwise, try to find the smallest pill size available. If you are taking time-released tablets, do not break the pill, as this will ruin the time-release. You can buy 8 hour time release melatonin which helps you fall asleep fast and STAY asleep all night.
There is also a sublingual melatonin (a pill that dissolves under the tongue). Sublingual melatonin is released immediately into the blood stream, and isn’t metabolized through the digestive system.
They are even featuring fruity flavors and chewable tablets.
One mom told us that she breaks open the capsule and mixes the powder to disguise it in a nighttime drink. A health professional can best recommend the type of supplement your child should have, when to take it and how.
As you can see there is a lot to be considered before using melatonin to help your special needs child to sleep. The wrong amounts of it or melatonin at the wrong time of day can cause health risks.
Word of Hope:
The Medical News Today site explains, “There have been a number of well-designed studies and case reports on the use of melatonin in children with neuro-psychiatric disorders that result in sleep difficulties, such as autism, psychiatric disorders, visual impairment, or epilepsy. The studies conducted so far suggest that melatonin can shorten the time to fall asleep and lengthen sleep duration.”
- There is a study on melatonin and children with autism by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Dr. Malow reported,” Melatonin was effective in the first week of treatment, maintained effectiveness over several months, was well-tolerated and safe, and showed improvement in sleep, behavior and parenting stress”
Advances in the Research of Melatonin in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Literature Review and New Perspectives
- In the International Journal of Pediatrics an article entitled, “Clinical Uses of Melatonin in Pediatrics” states, “Melatonin is beneficial not only in the treatment of dyssomnias (the disorders that produce either difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep), especially delayed sleep phase syndrome, but also on sleep disorders present in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity, autism spectrum disorders, and, in general, in all sleep disturbances associated with mental, neurologic, or other medical disorders.”
- JUNE 16, 2014: In an article by Dr. Sonya Doherty, a Naturopathic Doctor specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder, AD/HD, Tourette Syndrome and Pediatric OCD, she says sleep disorders affect 83% of children diagnosed with autism. Dr. Doherty goes on to say that sleep problems in autism usually start at the same age as developmental regression, suggesting a higher vulnerability at this period of life. Healthy sleep patterns are essential to support neuroplasticity and development so it is important to address sleep disorders as soon as possible. According to the Center of Pediatric Sleep Disorders, studies of melatonin use in children with ASD provide evidence for its effectiveness and safety in the long run. READ Dr. Sonya Doherty’s article to learn more of the importance of melatonin in the management of sleep disorders and gastrointestinal problems in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Word of Caution and Side Effects:
In an article titled More Parents Are Giving Kids Melatonin to Sleep. Is It Safe? by Dr. Stan Spinner, chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics. “To date, research hasn’t determined whether melatonin use could affect the onset of puberty or whether there are any other long-term effects on children’s health, Owens says. (Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.) “Melatonin actually suppresses some hormones that regulate puberty. So, the concern is that chronic use of melatonin could alter normal pubertal development,” she says, adding that, at present, there’s no evidence to support this – at least that’s been published. “It’s more of a theoretical concern at this point, but I think that’s [what] tends to be most worrisome.”
- As I mentioned at the beginning, Dr. Beth Malow also said, “It is important that individuals with insomnia seek medical advice before taking melatonin. This is because other treatable medical and sleep conditions can sometimes cause insomnia.
- Dr. Beth Malow continues, “Also, melatonin can interact with other drugs for other medical conditions,” It is believed that Melatonin supplements can interfere with anti-depressant medications, anti-psychotic medications, blood-thinning medications, some cancer drugs, etc.
- Be aware that some people report side effects like dizziness, confusion, headache, irritability, vivid dreams, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, …
- There is also the question of the dosage amount that you should discuss with your doctor.
Tips to Help a Child or Teen to Sleep Well
My advice to parents would be to try the following steps first. If their child still has a sleep problem then a consultation with their family doctor is needed to know what else can be done and if melatonin supplements are required for their child.
- Having a bedtime routine that induces sleep.
- Setting a consistent wake-up time, and build his sleep schedule around it.
- Checking that the following are just right: bedroom temperature, amount of darkness, comfort of the bed and bedclothes, having no electronic gadgets on, limiting stimulating activities shortly before bedtime…
- Making sure there are no annoying noises like a ticking clock, humming furnace, gurgling pipes, dripping water, etc.
- Making sure there are no “unpleasant to him” or “bad” smells from laundry detergent on the bedclothes or bedding, even what the child would smell from a shampoo, soap, or toothpaste.
- Being sure their child has a healthy lifestyle taking in consideration food intake and daily physical exercises (preferably outdoor play).
- Checking with their family doctor to rule out any medical conditions, either physical or mental, that may cause their sleep problems.