The Melatonin Myth: These trendy supplements should not be used in children
I’ve heard a lot recently about people turning to melatonin pills to help themselves – and their babies – get to sleep. I have to tell you that I do not endorse this and in fact, I think it can be harmful for children.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It is important because it regulates your circadian or body clock – you may have heard me talk about this important function before!
Melatonin supplements are used for their ability to induce sleep in some users – it doesn’t always have the same effect on everyone.
Here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t give your baby melatonin to aid in sleep:
- Your baby’s circadian rhythm is what tells her when it is awake time and when it is sleep time. Newborns sleep for as much as 16 hours a day, in small stretches of three to four hours. Baby needs to eat often and so they naturally wake up after just a few hours of sleep. This is perfectly natural and to be expected.
As your baby gets older, they are able to sleep for longer periods of time, due in part to the development of their pineal gland, which is not fully developed at birth. As the pineal gland develops it will naturally release more melatonin and baby’s wake and sleep cycles will change in response.
In other words, a newborn who doesn’t sleep through the night is a perfectly natural, normal baby.
It can be difficult to make the adjustment yourself, but know that sleep periods will naturally extend as baby gets older.
- Giving your baby melatonin, even if it is labeled as “natural” may interfere with their development. I say “may” because there are no federal studies or guidelines around giving babies melatonin. Because melatonin is found in some foods it is regulated as a nutritional supplement rather than a drug, as most other hormones are.
In a New York Times article earlier this year, Dr. Judith Owens, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital said “I think we just don’t know what the potential long-term effects are, particularly when you’re talking about young children. Parents really need to understand that there are potential risks.
For example, a University of Maryland Medical Center study suggests that in large doses melatonin may cause seizures, and other research suggests it’s use could potentially affect your child’s developing reproductive, cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems and may be linked to premature puberty.
There simply is not enough evidence that melatonin supplements are safe for infants or children.
- I believe that methods such as sleep training are an effective way to help children learn to sleep through the night. With understanding, practice, and support, families can establish healthy sleep habits that benefit the entire family without relying on a pill.
It is true there are exceptions to every rule, and in some rare instances your pediatrician may determine there is a medical need for your baby to take melatonin – or any other – supplements. Of course, if that is the case, work with your trusted medical professional to safely treat your child’s health issue.
However, using melatonin over the counter to “fix” your baby’s sleep challenges is, quite frankly, a bad idea. I doubt anyone among us wants our child to become dependent (either psychologically or physically) on a pill to help them sleep.
I strongly believe it is in all our best interest to patiently and lovingly teach our children how to wind down and ready themselves for restful, healthy sleep.
Looking for a safe and not medicated way to better the sleep of the whole family, start here with my top 7 tips to healthier sleep habits.