Updated: Jul 18
Spend ten minutes scrolling through almost any mom group on Facebook, and you’re bound to see a post inquiring about the use of melatonin.
“Is it safe to give my child melatonin?”
“How much melatonin can I give my 2-year-old?”
And within those posts, you’ll see a variety of responses from other moms.
Some comments saying it’s not safe.
Some comments saying it’s completely safe.
When there’s so much conflicting information on a product that we’re giving our kids, it’s hard to know what’s accurate, and most importantly, what’s safe.
I’ve read some of the research and interviewed some of the experts on this topic, and I want to share with you what I’ve learned over my years as a parent and a sleep consultant so that you can be empowered to make the choices you feel are right for your family.
The Science Behind Melatonin
In case you aren’t aware of what melatonin is, here’s a brief overview:
Melatonin is a hormone in your body that significantly plays a role in your sleep. Your body produces melatonin at specific times of the day, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm. When it’s darker, melatonin production is higher, and when your body is exposed to light, melatonin production is inhibited.
When melatonin production is seemingly “off,” your child’s circadian rhythm can get out of tune. This means your child may not get the restorative sleep their bodies need, and they could experience other sleep challenges.
Knowing these facts is important when you want to focus on fostering healthy sleep in your little one, as we always want to work with your child’s body and not against it.
Often, when children have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, parents turn to melatonin supplements in the hope that it will make their children sleep better. And while there are situations where melatonin supplements are appropriate, working on improving your child’s natural melatonin production is key for long-term healthy sleep.
So before you run to the store and grab a bottle of melatonin hoping that your little one will sleep better tonight, there are four things you want to keep in mind.
4 Things to Consider Before Giving Melatonin
When I sat down with Dr. Katy Gibson, she mentioned that parents would always ask about melatonin supplements when they visited the pediatrician office. She would advise melatonin supplement use for short periods of time (like to adjust after traveling when changing time zones) but she never recommended melatonin as a long-term solution to use with children.
The truth is, there are things you’ll want to take into consideration before blindly giving your child melatonin supplements, so let’s get into them.
Melatonin studies are limited.
The only studies that have been conducted on melatonin look at the short-term effects of usage – not longer, continuous usage. Why does this matter?
Without a larger picture of the effects, there is no knowing whether giving your child melatonin supplements for an extended period can cause any issues.
Melatonin is not regulated by the FDA.
Although over-the-counter melatonin supplements are often seen as a natural sleep remedy, melatonin is a hormone. And in the United States, these supplements are not regulated by the FDA like drugs are.
Dosages vary by brand.
Melatonin supplement dosages vary by brand, and there are no guidelines for just how much your child should receive. This can cause a host of challenges – accidentally administering the wrong dosage if you switch brands, not knowing if you’re giving your child too much, etc.
Melatonin supplements are a band-aid solution.
Truly, melatonin supplements are a band-aid solution – it’s not solving the sleep issue your little one is facing, and you’re not getting to the root cause of the issue.
So what can you do to address your child’s sleeplessness in a natural, effective way?
Focus on helping your child’s natural melatonin production.
5 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child’s Natural Melatonin Production
While many believe that melatonin supplements are the only way to increase melatonin in your child’s body, I sat down with Dr. Funke Brown who shared that there are other ways parents can (and should!) increase their child’s natural melatonin.
If you want to help your child sleep better and regulate their melatonin levels, here are five tips that you can implement, starting today!
Have a consistent schedule.
Wake your child around the same time each day, and have bedtime at the same time each night. Further, having a strong bedtime routine will begin to help your child’s body anticipate what to expect and ensure you’re creating an ideal environment conducive to sleep.
Expose your child to sunlight early in the morning, midday if possible, and again in the evening. The sun is a powerful tool when it comes to helping to regulate your child’s circadian rhythm.
Limit blue light.
Get rid of electronics, especially in the evening hours, as blue light emitted from phones, computers, TV screens, and iPads can inhibit the body’s melatonin production. I recommend turning the screens off at least 90 minutes before bed.
Set the atmosphere in the house.
Since darkness triggers the release of melatonin which helps with the onset of sleep, dimming the lights in the house in the evening, beginning at dinner time, is a great idea. And in the morning? Open the curtains and let that light in!
Keep your child’s room dark.
The darker, the better. Even if you think your child’s room is dark enough now, it doesn’t hurt to make sure. The room should be so dark that you can’t even see your hand when you hold it up in front of your face. If you need to use a nightlight, opt for a red or orange-hued light.
It’s clear that melatonin plays a huge role in your child’s sleep and in their circadian rhythm, but the decision to use melatonin supplements is a family matter.
There are going to be instances where melatonin supplements are appropriate, like when changing time zones, and there will be instances where melatonin supplements are only masking the true issues your child is experiencing with their sleep.
With the tips above, I hope that you feel empowered to make whatever choice is best for you and your family.
And if you’re wanting a totally natural way to help solve your child’s sleep issues, let’s set them up for success by first incorporating healthy routines, great sleep hygiene, and positive sleep associations by working together.
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