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Melatonin, Use It or Lose It?

By: Sarah McNemar, MD

Sleep. We as parents know how coveted a good night’s rest can be, and most of us would pay large sums of money just to be guaranteed some solid shut eye. So, who can blame us when we run to CVS for some magical sleeping gummies—otherwise known as melatonin— for our restless children or even for ourselves?

Parkside certainly does not blame or shame you for wanting to try out a sleep supplement like melatonin to help your child get some much needed rest but, as always, we want you to be fully educated and informed about what choices you are making for your family.

With this in mind, let’s dive right in shall we? First up…

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that helps support the body’s circadian rhythm. Based on relatively small amounts of research and study, it seems that melatonin does help to correct a child’s sleep cycle in the short term.

An important attribute to remember about melatonin is that it should be used to aide in the onset of sleep, not to help with attaining a “deep sleep” or even a long sleep.

Melatonin works best when administered 30-60 minutes before your child’s bedtime. Dosage recommendations vary so definitely speak to your provider before giving your little one any of this sleep supplement.

Side Effects of Melatonin

As stated above, there are limited studies regarding melatonin use in children. The general consensus however is that melatonin use is safe. Studies on duration of use suggest that there are little to no adverse effects in children after 4 yrs. of use, so likely no long term side effects or harm.

Melatonin can interact with other medications, so as always, make sure to tell your pediatrician ALL of the medications and supplements your child is taking before starting melatonin.

Rare side effects include: headache, nausea, drowsiness, and/or dizziness. While these are likely mild and temporary, we still advise to use melatonin as a last resort instead of a making the use of it a typical practice.

What to Try Before Grabbing the Melatonin for Your Child?

Things to make sure you try before giving your child melatonin:

  • Practice good sleep “hygiene” as a family—and not just for one night. Commit to placing some positive habits in place and see where you land. Dr. Maya Powers offers some great tips on sleep training if you need examples or guidance.
  • If your child is younger, creating consistency with naps can also be key to helping bedtime go smoother.
  • Establish a “wake time” for your child in the mornings and adhere to it as much as possible. Helping your child maintain a morning schedule can be as productive in helping with bed time as altering the actual bed time.
When to Use Melatonin?

Ok I know, the real reason you’re here. When is it ok to actually give your child the goods?

First of all, melatonin can be quite helpful for children with autism or ADHD. Both of these disorders can affect a child’s sleep cycles profoundly. So, if your child struggles with either one of these, you should not feel like you’ve “failed” if you and your pediatritian come to the conclusion that a healthy dose of melatonin at night is needed to help your child doze off.

Secondly, if your child is consistently struggling to fall asleep at night (for more than an hour) and you have adjusted their bed time habits, followed a schedule, etc., then it very well may be time to consult with your pediatrician about using a sleep supplement, like melatonin, for a brief period.

As far as dosing goes, we generally recommend starting with a max dose of 0.5-1mg in young children, 2-3 mg in older children, and a max dose of 5mg for adolescents. Some children with autism may require up to 10mg, but as with most things, you should always start low and work your way up as needed.

Hopefully the above helps you and your family in your sleep—or sleepless—journey. Trust me when I tell you that I know the feeling of exhaustion, frustration, and even desperation some of you are experiencing.

Please reach out to us with any and all of your medication questions—melatonin related or otherwise. We’d love to guide you in the best steps for your child and help you find the path to a smoother and simpler bed time.

Until next time,

Dr. Sarah McNemar

Parkside Provider, Medical Director (Powdersville), and mostly just “winging it” parent

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