Does your child sometimes act moody, or inattentive? Is he or she unpredictable in their behavior at times, or antsy? If you answered yes, it is entirely possible your child is not getting enough sleep.
Alarmingly, the sleep deprivation problem among children might have unintended future consequences. According to data compiled by the Harvard Gazette, children who don’t get enough sleep are much more likely to develop behavioral problems.
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Enter melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. This article will outline the pros and cons when considering melatonin for kids.
But first, let’s provide a quick rundown of melatonin itself.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that is thought to govern the sleep-wakefulness cycle. For animals, melatonin is essential for regulating our circadian rhythm. This rhythm includes:
- Sleep-wakefulness timing
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Seasonal reproduction (applies less to humans)
Around nighttime, the pineal gland (located in the brain) increases the production of melatonin. As day turns to night, this encourages sleep. When morning rolls around, the pineal gland reduces melatonin production. Melatonin is also sold in synthetic form as a dietary supplement.
Studies also indicate that using synthetic melatonin does not reduce the body’s natural hormone production of melatonin.
Melatonin is also an antioxidant, and studies have shown it reduces oxidative stress. It even reduces the toxicity of certain drugs. It is also used to minimize jet lag fatigue and help people who may work overnight work shifts.
You can find melatonin in some food, including oats, asparagus, barley, tart cherries, and walnuts. Because of this, it is only mildly regulated as a dietary supplement instead of a drug. The majority of other hormones are regulated as drugs.
In some countries, melatonin is available by prescription only. These include New Zealand, Australia, and several European countries.
Depending on what research you find, melatonin for kids can provide benefits. Most studies reveal short-term melatonin use is perfectly safe for children, with few side effects.
In one study, 90% of children given melatonin had improved sleep. Another comparison of 13 studies found that children given melatonin fell asleep 29 minutes faster and slept 48 minutes longer.
There is a substantial amount of scientific data that shows melatonin can help children with insomnia fall asleep faster. This includes kids with ADD, autism, and other neurological problems. Children with neurological disorders may benefit more from long term use, in some studied cases.
These statistics are promising, especially for frustrated parents. In this day and age of late-night screen time, attention-deficit disorders, and constant distraction, a child’s sleep cycle can be under continuous threat.
Causes For Concern
Short-term use of melatonin is considered safe in general, but it can have side effects. These include, but are not limited to:
- Daytime grogginess
- May interfere with blood pressure, diabetes, blood thinners
Some less common side effects may include anxiety, abdominal pain, confusion, irritability, and feelings of depression. Unfortunately, how common these side effects are among children is unknown.
Another concern regarding melatonin for kids is that its impact on the body may go beyond sleep. Because it is a hormone, melatonin plays a part in how the body sexually matures. Levels of melatonin in the body impact the function of the ovaries and testes. Not enough studies have been done to determine if ingesting melatonin during childhood or as a teenager may affect the sexual development of a young person.
Additionally, melatonin labels may be misleading. One study independently verified the amount of melatonin in 31 brands of supplements. It found a considerable variation from the amount of melatonin on the label–both significantly greater than and much less than the labeled amount. These findings occurred across different supplements and even from one batch to another made by the same brand.
It is also important to note that plenty of non-sleep over-the-counter children’s medications may have melatonin listed as an ingredient. For example, children’s “nighttime cough syrup” as well as “relaxation” beverages often contain hidden melatonin. When it comes to melatonin for kids, checking the label is crucial.
If you do decide on melatonin, it may be wise to do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional. It is also essential to consider buying from a reputable source. Melatonin for kids characterized as pharmaceutical grade may be more precise in dosing.
A November 2016 study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that 71 percent of sampled melatonin was 10 percent or more of the labeled dose. Some supplements contained nearly five times the listed dose.
Instead of running to the store to buy some melatonin capsules, you may want to consider why your child is having sleep trouble. Getting a good night’s sleep is a challenge for people of all ages, and environmental factors could be playing a significant part.
Children may have trouble sleeping for lots of reasons: their bedtime may be too early, anxiousness, even restless-leg syndrome, to name a few.
It is important to note that immediate-release versions do not help with staying asleep during the night. This is because melatonin blood levels peak around 2 hours after ingestion. Some evidence points to extended-release melatonin helping children remain asleep throughout the night.
However, there are very few studies to support most of these findings. Additionally, extended-release supplements are always in pill form. You may not want to deal with a fussy child taking a pill late at night.
There has been a tremendous increase in the administering of melatonin to children in recent years. Even in the UK, where melatonin is prescription-only, there has been a 25 percent climb in melatonin prescriptions in children under 18. During the same period (2015-2018), there was a 40 percent increase in extended-release melatonin use for children.
At the end of the day, not much is known about the long-term effects melatonin may have on children. Consider talking to your doctor to weigh the benefits and risks. We all want our children to sleep better, and exploring melatonin is one of the many options you have.
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