The alarming trend of using Melatonin in children
Melatonin - the full story
Recently I’ve seen rise to a number of people suggesting melatonin supplements as acceptable ways of making their baby or child sleep.
This has been a theme lately across social media influencers, and this has me quite concerned.
I think openly acknowledging you’re struggling with any aspect of parenthood is flippen brave and kick-ass, and it’s something we all want to hear because we all struggle every now and then - I think influencers who point this out do other mums a real favour and remind us that it’s ok to just be ok, or not be ok, some days!
As mums we all want the very best for our kids, and of course the way we go about achieving that is going to be different, but I wanted to write a post to talk about other avenues you can go down before resorting to a trip to the doctor to attempt to be prescribed melatonin, or less favourably, acquiring what is a prescription medicine through other means.
For those who don’t know, melatonin is considered the sleep hormone and is responsible for us getting sleepy.
This is released in darkness by the pineal gland, one of the reasons being in a dark room is so important for good consolidated sleep.
Babies start to produce their own melatonin at only a couple of months old, and initially this can make sleep cycles very pronounced, particularly during the day, which is why catnapping tends to emerge at this age.
A healthy infant or child brain will readily produce its own melatonin and regulate its own circadian rhythm (biological clock) by around 4-5 months of age.
Food, light, and social interaction all influence this biological clock.
Between 6-8pm each day your childs melatonin levles begin to rise, this natural cycle occurs each day in healthy babies, children, and adults. This is your bodies natural way of preparing you for sleep, and helping you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
You can see in the above graph, that melatonin levels rise, as cortisol drops, your body already has a perfect in built mechanism driving your need to sleep.
This same cycle is happening for our babies and toddlers.
Sometimes adults and children will be prescribed melatonin by a doctor.
But it's important to note here that there are genuinely some children who will need melatonin prescribed - children on the Aspergers and Autism spectrum often suffer from sleep disturbance and melatonin has shown to help in some of these cases.
It’s also important to acknowledge the term ‘prescribed by a doctor’ - it’s a prescription medication so like every other prescription it should not be shared.
The concern I have around melatonin supplements or using/discussing them so flippantly is that there is no substantial evidence to suggest what long term outcomes this may have for adults, let alone babies and children.
More specifically, we don’t yet know if giving artificial melatonin affects the body’s own ability to produce it - and to me that’s too big a risk to be taking when there are so many other ports of call first.
Until it’s been confirmed that this does not influence the body’s own production levels I would personally be very cautious about giving it to my own children, and would only do so with the guidance of my GP.
If you’ve seen my previous blog on phenergan, you’ll know I very much believe medication for sleep should be for those who genuinely need it, or as a very last resort for people who have given other approaches a consistent go with no success.
I’m feeling a bit ‘negative Nancy’ here, so here’s the good news!
Encouraging better sleep from your children and babies can be super easy!
As with everything, consistency is key, but give these tips below a try for a few consecutive days and I would love to hear about the results you have with your little ones!
For toddlers over 2.5-3, you may want to consider dropping or cutting back on their nap if they are regularly difficult to settle for bed at 7pm.
A good way to know how much day sleep your child needs is to trim back by 15mins every 2-3days, and as they become easier to settle at 7pm, you’ll know the correct amount of sleep for them.
A night light might be necessary at this age, but if you’re using one ensure it’s a dim reddish glow. Blue light hinders melatonin production more so than red. - Remove devices and tv at least 2 hours before bed time!
These things are kryptonite to melatonin production!
Implement a relaxed wind down ritual in the lead up to bed time. Use some time in sunlight in the evening after dinner (we call this light therapy) to help your child more naturally produce melatonin when you then take them into a dark environment.
This is a handy tip for early waking also - remember sunlight has a huge effect on our biological clocks! This is a good option for babies too!
Ensure a good flow to their day by aiming for naps in their natural nap windows (these occur between 9-10am, 12-2pm, and 6-7pm).
There’s no natural nap window for a late afternoon nap so if your baby is under 8 months assisting them for a small catnap late afternoon can assist in them going to bed without being over tired.
Generally around a 6.30pm bed time works well for most babies under 18 months old.
Unlike toddlers who may genuinely develop a fear of the dark, babies need darkness for sleep. I would encourage a room as close to pitch black as possible, even for day naps! Dark room = natural melatonin production.
A wind down ritual here is also a really good way to encourage better settling and sleep.
As a senior consultant I’ve worked in my role for the last five years helping families to achieve better sleep, including children with severe illness, brain damage, autism, developmental and behavioural issues so if you need extra support around helping your children to sleep better naturally,
I’d love to help!
You can reach me on 021722428
or email email@example.com