Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone secreted in the human brain, is sold as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement and as a treatment for sleep disorders. When used conscientiously, under the guidance of a qualified practitioner, melatonin may be an appropriate treatment for severe sleep problems in some toddlers. However, its long-term safety has not been studied, and parents should never give melatonin to a toddler except under the guidance of a pediatrician or other health care provider, since the drug can have serious side effects.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, melatonin regulates the body's circadian rhythm, facilitating sleep at night and wakefulness during daylight hours. Additionally, melatonin controls the release of female reproductive hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. Supplements containing melatonin can help to address deficiencies in this natural hormone, which may occur as a result of stress, sleep disorders or neurological abnormalities.
Uses for Toddlers
Melatonin appears to be an effective treatment for sleep disturbances in children with developmental and neurobehavioral disorders, such as autism, anxiety disorder, mental retardation, Asperger's syndrome and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the MedlinePlus website explains. Melatonin can help these children fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Some parents also use melatonin as a treatment for insomnia in children with normal development, but no studies have evaluated this use; parents should not give melatonin to toddlers on their own.
The University of Maryland Medical Center states that melatonin can be a safe supplement for children when it used in low doses, under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. However, MedlinePlus considers the product to be inappropriate for use in most toddlers. The benefits associated with melatonin are only worth the risks when a toddler's sleep disturbances are significantly disruptive to his health or development, and when drug-free treatment options have failed. Talk to your child's pediatrician first.
Melatonin can trigger several possible side effects in toddlers. The UMMC states that high doses, exceeding 1 to 5 milligrams, can cause seizures in children under 15 years of age. Melatonin can alter the production of reproductive hormones, particularly in adolescents, MedlinePlus warns. No large-scale, well-designed studies have investigated the effects of melatonin supplements on a toddler's developing endocrine system. The NIH reports a link between melatonin supplements and uncomfortable side effects such as headache, stomach cramps and mood disturbances.
Talk to your child's pediatrician to establish a safe dosage of this drug. A daily dose of 5 milligrams, immediately before bedtime, appears to be a safe and effective dose for toddlers with developmental disabilities, but only under a physician's care. However, the UMMC advises a much lower dose, suggesting no more than 0.3 milligrams per day for children under the age of 15.