Updated: Aug 2
Melatonin helps people sleep, there's no doubt about that. Yet, there is some debate over whether or not supplemental melatonin is helpful. Should you give your child melatonin to help him sleep? To answer that question, let's look at some facts about melatonin first.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the body to help you sleep. It is created along with the rhythm of the sun. The brain, more specifically- the pineal gland, creates the hormone and then releases it into the bloodstream. You can also get melatonin from certain foods, like eggs, fish, and nuts. Lastly, we get melatonin from sunlight.
There was a study done in Finland by Dr. Russell Reiter. He had one group of rats get natural sunlight, while the other got flourescent light. He then measured their melatonin levels after one week of exposure. The rats that received sunlight had much higher levels of melatonin than the rats that received the same amount of flourescent light. Dr. Reiter has a book titled Melatonin.
When we recieve an adequate amount of sunlight during the day, our body produces an adeqaute amount of melatonin at night. If we do not receive enough sunlight in the day, and/or receive too much light in the evening (with screens and electricity), then natural melatonin levels will be down at night.
Supplemental melatonin comes in pill, gummy, and liquid forms. It is meant to aid in sleep, even if you aren't getting enough natural production. These supplements come in either natural or synthetic form. The natural form comes from the penial gland of animals (not sure which ones). These can sometimes contain viruses or other health issues, so most doctors will recommend a synthetic melatonin supplement. A synthetic melatonin supplement is made from 5-Methoxytryptamine.
Is Supplemental Melatonin Safe?
As already mentioned above, natural supplements can contain animal viruses...why risk that?? A synthetic form, while maybe "safer", can also come with side effects. People have reported:
Is giving your child melatonin to sleep at night worth those possible side effects? Furthermore, we don't know if there are any long-term effects of regular melatonin use in children. You may be interested to know that you can only get melatonin supplements as a prescription in Europe and Australia. It is known as a food supplement in the U.S., which means it has not been studied much in regards to health and there is limited information available. One study showed that in order for supplemental melatonin to help children sleep, they need a much higher dose than what would be naturally occuring in their body.
In my mind, it's debatable whether or not regular melatonin use is actually safe. Besides that, supplemental melatonin can decrease the production of your natural melatonin. I believe that the natural melatonin is always going to be better than any supplemental one you can take and/or give your children.
A melatonin supplement may mask sleep issues for a time, but will likely not solve them completely. If your child is having trouble falling asleep at night, and/or staying asleep through the night, there is a scientific reason for that. Or maybe even more than one; there are many possibilities. My point is that if your child is having sleep issues, it'd be much better to get to the root of the problem and solve it rather than mask it with a supplement that may or may not be safe.
Our bodies were created to produce melatonin naturally. Therefore, my recommendation is always going to be that you do what will allow that process to happen. Natural melatonin is going to be the best sleep support for your child (and yourself) over a synthetic version. When a client comes to me with a child who is taking melatonin supplements, I always recommend they discontinue use. We can then get to the root of the sleep issue and solve it, allowing the child's body to produce the perfect amount of melatonin it needs!
Natural melatonin will hands-down be better at aiding sleep than a synthetic version. In order to encourage natural melatonin production, make sure your child gets sunlight each day, even if just for a short time. Also, avoid screen use, and other bright lights, at least an hour before bedtime. Lastly, a set schedule (for children 8 months and older) can help melatonin production too. When the body is on a set schedule, it know exactly when sleep is coming, so it can then produce melatonin prior to that time to prepare for sleep.
~Ashley Bell, your pediatic sleep consultant
What is Melatonin? WebMD, Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/what-is-melatonin
Melatonin for Children? A Guide for Parents. by Dr. Craig Canapari, MD https://drcraigcanapari.com/should-my-child-take-melatonin-a-guide-for-parents/