Dr. Peter Nieman, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and host of Healthy Kids Canada, points out that as many as 25 percent of children have difficulty falling asleep. Although the use of low doses of melatonin to help children sleep seems to be safe and effective, more research is needed to answer lingering questions. As with any dietary supplement, only give your child melatonin under a doctor’s direction.
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The pineal gland is a small, pine cone-shaped organ located in the brain. It secretes the hormone known as melatonin. The hormone helps the body maintain its circadian rhythm -- the internal clock that determines a person's sleep-wake cycle. Darkness stimulates secretion of the hormone. Despite children having the highest levels of nighttime melatonin, some children do not produce enough of the hormone, which may be why they have sleep problems. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the use of melatonin supplements may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, although research findings on its effectiveness have been mixed.
Questions About Use
Clinical trials suggest that melatonin may be helpful in promoting sleep in children with autism, attention deficit disorder and cerebral palsy. The findings of one study published in the April 2009 issue of the “Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine” suggest that taking over-the-counter melatonin supplements may help children with autism fall asleep faster. Doctors usually recommend the lowest effective dose, as there is concern that more research has been conducted on melatonin use in children with neurodevelopmental problems than in otherwise healthy children. Side effects may include daytime drowsiness, vivid dreams or nightmares and a rise in blood glucose level. Dr. Michael J. Breus, an expert in sleep disorders and Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, points out that melatonin use in children may also delay the onset of puberty.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician before giving him melatonin. Although presently there is no recommended dose for melatonin supplements, many pediatricians suggest doses less than 0.3 mg per day. This is close to the amount of melatonin the body produces naturally. There is concern that higher doses between 1 mg to 5 mg may cause seizures in children, especially those with serious neurological disorders.
Following review and data analysis of reports of clinical trials, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has concluded that melatonin is safe when used over the short term for a few days or weeks. However, evidence suggests that it is not effective in treating most sleep disorders with short-term use. Studies on children have been limited and there is no information on the long-term effects of the supplement. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of melatonin. Talk to your child’s doctor first to rule out possible medical causes for her insomnia.