For overtired parents who is struggling to get their child to sleep better through the night, the idea of a pill to quickly fix the problem can sound pretty tempting. And, for many parents I work with they have already started using it. The truth is? Long term, it does not help solve the situation once and for all.
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted to help regulate when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake. As it gets closer to bed time, melatonin levels increase as your body gets ready to sleep. For those who take it as a supplement/medication, it is a temporary fix to help you fall asleep more quickly.
It seems that an increasing number of doctors are recommending parents give their little ones melatonin at an alarming rate. Nationwide sale of melatonin increased by 500% over an 11 year period as of 2014! (US Health) I speak to families every day about how they have started giving melatonin to their children and unfortunately, the kids who are getting it are younger and younger.
So how do you get your child sleeping better without it?
You have to remember: Melatonin is only a TEMPORARY solution. It CANNOT help poor sleep habits. For anyone dealing with sleep issues, you have to look at their sleep hygiene and see what needs improving. For many babies, toddlers, and older kids, just reviewing this and making sure that routine, bedtime, etc. is being followed consistently can make a HUGE difference!
Working with special needs kids every day, I have met so many families being told that the only way their special needs child can sleep better is with a melatonin supplement. This is based on the truth that these children often are poor sleepers. I cannot tell you how many kids I have seen where their days and nights are literally completely switched around! However, taking a melatonin supplement is not the fix -- these children are capable of having good sleep hygiene. It's just a matter of teaching them, and keeping in mind sensory issues that they may have to deal with.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the jury is still out on the long-term effects of melatonin use in children, and federal oversight is lax at best (US Health). In January, the New York Times reported on the mis-labeling of over-the-counter melatonin dosages. On average what the label said and what the actual melatonin level was did not meet label claim by a 10% margin. Worst case: melatonin levels was 5x higher than what was advertised on the box!
Why put your child at any risk just so they can rest a little bit easier at night? Mom and Dad need to teach their little one(s) great sleep habits and how to fall asleep independently. Nothing is more natural than that!
If your child sleeps poorly and you have tried melatonin (or have been recommended it), contact me to learn more about how to teach them great sleep habits or schedule a free 15 minute phone call with me to learn more