The hormone melatonin is produced in the brain from the amino acid tryptophan and functions to regulate the body's clock, or circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm influences when your child wakes and falls asleep. The pineal gland responds to darkness by secreting more melatonin and responds to light by decreasing the hormone.
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Being exposed to insufficient light during the day or too much light at night interferes with the body's natural melatonin cycles. Melatonin supplements help children with sleep problems associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and developmental disorders such as autism, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
Melatonin and Insomnia
Children may experience insomnia related to ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, visual impairment and other central nervous system disorders. Melatonin may reduce the time needed for some children to fall asleep and help them to sleep longer.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that melatonin facilitates sleep for children with ADHD but does not benefit the symptoms associated with ADHD. Melatonin may decrease the number and length of seizures for children with epilepsy when taken at bedtime.
Melatonin as a Supplement
Melatonin is available in tablet, capsule and cream forms, as well as lozenges that dissolve through the cheek or under the tongue. The strength, purity and safety of supplements such as melatonin may vary since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not impose rigid regulation standards on supplements. Read all product labels, and contact a doctor if side effects occur.
Evidence of Safety
Research substantiates the safety of melatonin for children. In a study published in the August 2009 issue of the "Journal of Pineal Research," researchers did not find evidence of concerns related to the use of melatonin with children. Parents of children with ADHD and chronic sleep onset insomnia who responded to a questionnaire reported no serious negative events associated with melatonin.
Precautions for Parents
MayoClinic.com indicates that although research suggests melatonin may help children with insomnia, additional studies are necessary to determine melatonin's benefit.
Discuss the use of melatonin with your child's pediatrician, and do not exceed the recommended dosage of 0.3 mg or less per day for children under 15. Doses between 1 to 5 mg present a seizure risk for children in this age group. Possible side effects include morning drowsiness, stomach cramps, irritability, confusion, vivid dreams and nightmares.