For parents who are struggling to get their baby to sleep, any miracle solution would be a life-saver. But what if it comes in a form of melatonin drops? Can babies take melatonin? This article will inform you about melatonin and its safety considerations when used with babies and young children.
Melatonin For Babies: What Is It?
You might have heard about melatonin drops that help children fall asleep faster. So what exactly is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body. In the brain, there is a small gland, called the pineal gland, which secretes melatonin. The secretion is light sensitive, meaning, melatonin is produced more when the environment is dark and less when the environment is bright.
Melatonin is the primary hormone influencing our body’s circadian rhythm or our 24-hour sleep-wake pattern. The greater presence of melatonin at night helps our body relax and promotes sleep. There is less melatonin during the daytime so it helps our body recognize that’s it’s time to wake up and be alert.
The melatonin that you see in stores is the synthetic form of this hormone. It may come in the form of supplement pills or tablets for adults, melatonin gummies for babies and young children, or melatonin drops for babies. These supplements are used to help with sleep-related issues like insomnia and interruption in the sleep cycle.
Can Babies Have Melatonin?
With the wide availability of melatonin supplements, many parents are thinking about giving babies melatonin. Some pediatricians prescribe it for children who specifically need help for their relaxation and sleep like those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), insomnia, and autism. It may also be advised for short-term use when children need some help to reset their circadian rhythm after a vacation or an illness.
However, experts strongly advise that melatonin must only be given with a doctor’s prescription. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), doctors and parents should carefully check the cause of the sleeping problem and do other interventions before they consider giving melatonin to babies and children.
It is also important to consider your baby’s age. Giving melatonin for babies under 1 may not be advisable because, at this age, they have not developed their circadian rhythm well enough. It is normal for newborns to have an erratic sleep schedule while older babies need time to adapt to a particular sleep routine.
Besides, babies go through various growth spurts and developmental changes that naturally affect their sleep. Before considering the use of melatonin for babies under 2, experts suggest that sleep training and other natural interventions need to be explored.
Is Melatonin Safe For Babies?
As a supplement, you can even buy melatonin without a doctor’s prescription, but this doesn’t mean that it’s totally safe. Here’s why.
It’s not FDA regulated.
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the production and use of food supplements like melatonin. This means that the content of each melatonin supplement is not well-defined and it may vary from one brand to another.
Lack of studies about its use on children.
Though melatonin supplements were considered safe for short-term use among adults, the data about its safety for babies and young children is very scarce. Since the body also produces this hormone regularly, it is still unknown if the body also compensates or if the melatonin production in babies decreases when the supplement is taken.
Moreover, most studies where only focused on the short-term use of melatonin. The effects of using this supplement long-term is still being explored.
The dosage can be confusing.
Since supplements are not regulated, the dosage becomes more confusing. Parents who bought it over-the-counter may give less or more than what is needed for their child. When giving melatonin for babies dosage is very important. The dosage will depend on why or how it is intended to be used.
According to the AAP, most children will react to a low dose of melatonin which is 0.5 to 1 mg, given at around 30 to 90 minutes before bedtime. Even children with ADHD will not need to go further than 3 to 6 mg of melatonin.
Side Effects Of Melatonin In Babies
Even if melatonin is naturally produced within the body, its supplements aren’t exempted from side effects. These side effects rarely occur on children but they may be observed if too much melatonin is taken.
Among the reported side effects of melatonin supplements are:
- Daytime dizziness or grogginess
- Intense dreams
Unknown impact on reproductive health
Apart from regulating the circadian rhythm, melatonin is also found to influence the reproductive hormones, particularly during puberty. This is why scientists are still exploring if melatonin supplements can affect the child’s reproductive health later on or if they can trigger early puberty.
Risk of psychological dependence
Even if melatonin isn’t a drug, regularly giving it your baby before bedtime may form a bad sleep habit of dependency. In time, your child will depend on the supplement just to fall asleep. This psychological dependence will create more serious problems in the future.
What Parents Can Do
With the help of your doctor, you can seek some ways to promote sleep other than simply giving melatonin to babies. Practicing good sleep habits at home is the best and long-term cure for your child’s sleeping problems.
The natural melatonin surge is safer, cheaper, and more relaxing for babies and children. There are various ways to trick your child’s body that’s it’s time to get melatonin flowing.
Remember, this hormone responds to light and your baby’s circadian rhythm will work best on routine. So these two factors will be the focus of your interventions. Here are some tips:
Turn off your lights around 30 to 90 minutes before actual bedtime
The darkness of the environment will trigger the natural surge of melatonin and it usually takes this long for that to happen. Give your child’s body enough time to relax and wait to feel sleepy.
Avoid blue-light emitting devices before bedtime
These include all electronic gadgets like the television, cellphones, tablets, and laptops, including your own devices. The blue-light from these gadgets mimics the sun’s ultraviolet light and interferes with the production of melatonin.
Practice a regular bedtime routine that works for the whole family
Sometimes, the problem is with the time and not with the environment. No matter how much you darken the surroundings, it won’t be effective unless your bedtime is regularly scheduled. Irregular bedtime disrupts your child’s circadian rhythm and melatonin surge.
It will help your child a lot to schedule a bedtime that works for the whole family. If possible, it is best to start this routine early in infancy. If your family stick to a regular bedtime, it will be easier for your child to naturally recognize the right time to settle down at night.
Take a closer look at your baby’s nap time
Your baby’s nap time will affect his bedtime. According to experts, children who are 1 to 3 years old can stay awake for up to 6 hours. So if your baby took a nap from 1 to 3 in the afternoon, he might not be ready to settle down until 9 in the evening.
Avoid giving sweets before bedtime
Chocolates and sweet foods make the mind more alert and you wouldn’t want that before bedtime. Reserve those sweet treats in the morning when your child needs to be more active and energized.
Even if melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone of the body, giving supplements to young babies is not advised without a doctor’s prescription. Melatonin supplements are generally safe for short-term use but more research needs to be done to find out its effects on babies. In the world full of instant remedies, good sleeping habits remain the safest and most effective way to help babies and children sleep better.
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This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or licensed medical professional before making any medical decisions.