Is Melatonin for Kids Safe?

The melatonin secret is well and truly out of the bag these days: from a $90 million market in 2007 to a staggering $260 million come 2012, a huge number of troubled sleepers are taking the issue into their own hands and supplementing for a good night’s sleep.

Although this degree of reliance upon one specific form of medication, or supplement, raises its own selection of questions – the one that many tired parents are asking these days is if melatonin is safe and appropriate for their child.

The answer is a fairly complicated one.

Melatonin for kids seems safe, but…

The usual defence for the intake of melatonin is that of course it’s safe, because it occurs naturally in the body anyway. By taking supplements or topping up the natural reserves or production processes of the hormone, we’re simply helping the body carry out its normal duties.

This is a fair assumption, and there is quite a solid amount of circumstantial and anecdotal evidence which shows that regular intake of the hormone doesn’t appear to have any significant detrimental effects, and that relatively speaking it’s not possible to overdose on it.

However, it does bring us on to one of the main counter arguments, which is that the hormone is not regulated by the FDA, which also means that there are no empirical dosages for the supplement, and they vary drastically depending on which form of the hormone you purchase.

That said, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, unless your doctor has recommended a specific dosage for your child, the average dosages for young children seem to be anywhere from 0.5mg to 6mg, with very little reason to ever exceed the upper limit of 6mg.

Additional to that information, the Foundation suggest that in short term courses, melatonin supplements are perfectly healthy, safe and effective for young children, but that there is still a lack of substantial research concerning long term effects or long dosage courses.

One ardent voice against melatonin for children is Doctor Johnson-Arbor, a Hartford Hospital toxicologist. The warning comes from the fact that, as a hormone, melatonin can affect much more than just the natural sleeping processes, and may, ‘affect growth… sexual development and puberty and [have] a lot of different effects… it is a hormone and definitely can have these severe interactions…’

Indeed, there is some anecdotal evidence of youngsters waking up in sweaty beds, well before the age of puberty when this sort of thing becomes normal – argued to be due to the sweat glands being activated by the hormone.

Johnson-Arbor goes on to acknowledge that melatonin has a proven history in helping children with developmental issues or disabilities with their sleep routine, and suggests that it may only be pertinent to those children, rather than the average child with difficulty nodding off.

However, on the flipside of this argument, is that Johnson-Arbor’s worries about the effects of melatonin on the body are just as unclear as the long term effects of the hormone itself – this is all, basically, because it’s new, it’s popular and it hasn’t yet had the same degree of scientific scrutiny that many other over the counter solutions have had.

Not to mention the lack of FDA regulation means that there’s always going to be a huge lack of information surrounding it.

Melatonin for kids can lead to dependency

Like many medications (natural or manmade) a huge issue is that of reliance, or dependency upon the drug. A considerable concern amongst parents and critics of melatonin is not so much that the hormone itself is going to cause damage or isn’t effective, but that parents will use it as a replacement for a healthy, wholesome bedtime routine.

The worry is that instead of making sure the children are fed well before bedtime, have all their distractions turned off and are welcomed into a warm, comforting sleeping environment – some parents will simply just pop the pill and send them off to bed, shirking a sense of responsibility and creating what could become a dangerous habit, psychologically.

When should you use melatonin for kids?

Obviously the most common use of the supplement is in children with issues getting to sleep, however this creates the idea that regular intake for simple sleep issues is a healthy regime to fall into, when the opposite is true.

Before trying any medications, it’s always best to first try any simpler and gentler sleep aids for children (which mostly range from easy solutions like a hot mug of milk or warm bath to simply taking out any unnecessary light in the bedroom), and a consultation with your doctor to assess the necessity and risks.

If melatonin is recommended, it’s likely to be done so if your child is suffering from a truly deep seated sleep issue such as insomnia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or some developmental issues such as autism, blindness or mental impairments.

That all said, if you or your doctor decide that melatonin is the answer, the best time to take it is around 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime, in combination with a healthy, relaxing pre-bed routine.

So, what’s the conclusion?

Unfortunately there isn’t really a conclusion to the question, not yet anyway. A solid answer can’t be given until much more detailed, longstanding research into the effects of melatonin on young bodies is funded and peer-reviewed, which may be years away.

That said, there is ample evidence to show that, yes, melatonin does help with giving children a pleasant, full night’s sleep, and that there doesn’t seem to be any immediate worries concerning side-effects or dosage issues when it comes to using melatonin for kids.

The true concerns may come from over-reliance and inappropriate use. Try other alternatives before resorting to melatonin for your child – like amping up on foods abundant in melatonin, and if you truly feel that it is the answer to your worries, first contact a medical professional for their opinion before taking matters into your own hands.

If, and when, your child begins to take the hormone always bear in mind that over-reliance or habit is not a replacement for a more regular bedtime ritual – melatonin may get you over the bedtime hump, but it’s likely not meant to become bedtime, itself.

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