I have written in previous posts about the importance of sleep for children and teens. In those posts I mentioned the use of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. The Medical News Today site says, “Melatonin is a naturally occurring compound found in humans, animals, microbes and plants. In animals and humans, melatonin levels vary during the daily cycle. It is intimately involved in regulating the sleeping and waking cycles. It is sometimes prescribed by doctors for patients with sleep problems.” Products containing melatonin have been available over-the-counter as dietary supplements in the United States since the mid-1990s. Does melatonin really work? Are you at wits end trying to help your tired child?

Why do people use Melatonin supplements?

I found melatonin supplements have become popular as natural sleep aids. Melatonin helps establish normal sleep patterns to promote a more restful, relaxing sleep and better overall health. The body naturally produces melatonin, and Vitamin B6 is essential for melatonin production. One of the most important attributes of melatonin, one mom told me, is its ability to lower body temperature to induce sleep and cool down overheated systems such as those in child bipolar disorder.

On the site, Talk About Sleep, I found that the average melatonin supplement is 20 – 50 times more than we need! Here it even suggested if you are using regular melatonin tablets, you can cut the pill into fourths, otherwise, try to find the smallest pill size available. If you are taking time-released melatonin, do not break the pill, as this will ruin the time-release. You can buy 8 hour time release melatonin which helps you fall asleep fast and STAY asleep all night. There is also a sublingual melatonin (a pill that dissolves under the tongue). Sublingual melatonin is released immediately into the blood stream, and isn’t metabolized through the digestive system.

As you can see there is a lot to be considered before using melatonin because wrong amounts of melatonin or melatonin at the wrong time of day can cause health risks. Melatonin is used for many reasons and the ones most often sited are:

Shift work sleep disorder
Insomnia in older adults
Jet lag
Sleep improvements
Problems falling asleep
Problems not sleeping long enough
Blindness (amount of melatonin we produce is determined by how dark or light our surroundings are)
Sleep problems in children
Word of Hope

If I were the parent of a child with sleep problems, I would check first with our family doctor about giving melatonin to my child even if I can walk in any pharmacy and buy it. The Medical News Today site explains, “There have been a number of well-designed studies and case reports on the use of melatonin in children with neuro-psychiatric disorders that result in sleep difficulties, such as autism, psychiatric disorders, visual impairment, or epilepsy. The studies conducted so far suggest that melatonin can shorten the time to fall asleep and lengthen sleep duration.”

Beth Malow, M.D., M.S.

Just out is a new study on melatonin and children with autism by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, by lead author Beth Malow, M.D., M.S., professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, Burry Chair in Cognitive Childhood Development and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator. The study was supported with funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and Autism Speaks. The purpose of the study was to identify doses at which children responded to melatonin and also how long it took to observe a response.

Dr. Malow said, “We are excited about the potential melatonin has for treating insomnia, which can be overwhelming to children with autism as well as their families. The next step is to perform large-scale, controlled trials to prove that melatonin is effective in this population.”

The study involved children ages 3-9 years with a clinical diagnosis of an ASD whose parents reported sleep onset delay of 30 minutes or longer on three or more nights per week.

Supplemental melatonin was given 30 minutes before bedtime and this improved sleep latency in most children at 1 mg or 3 mg dosages.

Dr. Malow reported,” Melatonin was effective in the first week of treatment, maintained effectiveness over several months, was well-tolerated and safe, and showed improvement in sleep, behavior and parenting stress”

Word of Caution

As I mentioned at the beginning, Dr. Malow also said, “It is important that individuals with insomnia seek medical advice before taking melatonin. This is because other treatable medical and sleep conditions can sometimes cause insomnia. Also, melatonin can interact with other drugs for other medical conditions,” Moreover be aware that some people report side effects like dizziness, confusion, headache, irritability, vivid dreams, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, … There is also the question of the dosage amount that you should discuss with your doctor.

I have spoken to two moms lately, one with a child with ADHD and one whose child has Tourette Syndrome, sensory and anxiety issues, both find that melatonin works well for their child… and naturally for the tired parents.

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