Having a baby is exhausting. Late-night feedings, diaper changes, rocking a baby who you know is tired but just will not sleep – it takes a toll on the entire family. If your baby isn’t sleeping the way the books claim they should, you may be wondering if there’s something wrong, and something more you can do to help. You may have heard of giving melatonin, a popular supplement that aids sleep in adults, to babies, and are wondering if it will help, and more importantly, is it safe?
Melatonin is a hormone released by the brain in response to darkness. It is most often released in the evening and overnight, controlled by the body’s circadian rhythm. As a supplement, it is used to treat insomnia in adults and regulate sleep. Melatonin is generally considered to be safe, with the most common side effects to be drowsiness and vivid dreams. The effective dosage can vary, with some people requiring very little melatonin to see dramatic improvement, while others need a large dose to see modest gains. Everybody produces melatonin naturally, some more than others.
Though it has been studied in adults, the safety of melatonin supplementation in children remains unclear. The few studies that have been done have mainly focused on short-term usage in older children, with extremely limited data on babies and toddlers. However, in children with developmental disability, ADHD, autism, and blindness, studies have shown promising results using melatonin supplementation to reduce the amount of time it takes for children to fall asleep. As with adults, the amount of melatonin it takes to see these improvements varies.
There are possible downsides to melatonin use in children. Some studies suggest an increase in seizure activity in children who take melatonin, especially in those children who may already be prone to seizures. That said, the likelihood is extremely rare and more studies would be needed to confirm there’s a connection. Melatonin is a hormone, and there is little information available on the effects this may have in the development of children if given long-term. Many doctors who recommend melatonin supplementation for children suggest keeping the dosage as low as 0.3 mg and up to 1 mg per day for babies and limiting the use to several days a week. As your child gets older, the dosage may increase. Melatonin supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so the dose may vary between brands.
Before giving your baby or toddler melatonin, you should speak with your pediatrician. The pineal gland, responsible for the release of melatonin, is not fully developed in babies, and night-waking should be expected. For older babies and toddlers, as well as older children, it is important to develop a consistent bedtime routine, reduce screen time, and develop healthy sleep habits. For most healthy children, problems with sleep can be dramatically improved with behavioral techniques. Your pediatrician will also want to rule out other medical causes of poor sleep.
Sleep is essential for children to grow and thrive, and often parents worry that their child is not getting enough. Melatonin supplementation can be a safe and effective way of treating sleep issues in children, especially those who have an underlying condition interfering with the production and release of melatonin. While most research agrees that small doses of melatonin are safe for babies, it’s recommended to check with your child’s pediatrician first.