For overtired parents who are struggling to get their child with special needs to sleep better through the night, the idea of a pill or supplement to quickly fix the problem can sound pretty tempting.
The truth is? Long term, it does not solve poor sleep once and for all.
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland to help regulate when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake. As it gets closer to bed time, melatonin levels naturally increase as your body. For those who take it as a supplement/medication, it is a temporary fix to help you fall asleep more quickly.
The problem? Medical professionals are recommending OTC melatonin more often, to younger and younger patients! Nationwide sale of melatonin increased by 500% over an 11 year period as of 2014! (US Health)
Can you get your child sleeping without it? Yes.
Here are some points to keep in mind:
Melatonin is only a TEMPORARY solution.
It CANNOT help if a child poor sleep habits. Melatonin should only be used (even by adults) to alleviate temporary sleep disturbances. Traveling overseas and changing time zones? Melatonin can help your body adjust to the new time. Other than that, there’s no need to use it long term.
For your child, taking a close look at sleep hygiene is key. For many kids with developmental issues, just reviewing their habits and making sure that routine, bedtime, etc. is being followed consistently can make a HUGE difference!
It is NOT your only solution
Working with kids with special needs every day, I have met so many families whose doctor insisted that melatonin was the only solution. The next solution? Heavy duty medication. That’s a topic for another blog post.
Most medical professionals and specialists do not think a child with special needs will respond to habit changes. They’re ineligible for sleep training because:
“Your child won’t understand.”
“Your child is genetically disposed to poor sleep. You can’t change genes.”
It’s also in many ways not responsible. Some children have sleep issues due to gut problems, low iron, and more. Wouldn’t it be better to get to the bottom of the problem, rather than mask it?
The families who oblige and start melatonin may see a temporary improvement in their child’s sleep. However, if their sleep habits are not ideal, melatonin will only get you so far. Time and time again, parents will start melatonin and the sleep problems come back! Teaching a child independent, internal strategies will trump melatonin any day.
We don’t know the long-term effects on kids who take melatonin
Another thing to keep in mind is that the jury is still out on the long-term effects of melatonin use in children. Federal oversight is lax, at best (US Health).
In January 2017, the New York Times reported on the mis-labeling of over-the-counter melatonin dosages. On average, what the label said and what the actual melatonin level was did not meet label claim by a 10% margin. Worst case: melatonin levels was 5x higher than what was advertised on the box!
Why put your child at any risk just so they can rest a little bit easier at night?
Mom and Dad need to teach their little one(s) great sleep habits and how to fall asleep independently. Nothing is more natural than that!
There are plenty of other natural supplements that work better
Did you know that there are loads of foods that are great for your sleep? Foods high in magnesium, calcium, Vitamin B, and tryptophan can help your child’s body naturally produce melatonin. Many people who have sleep issues are actually magnesium or calcium deficient! Giving your child these foods can alleviate sleep disturbances.
Herbal teas (for older kids) can be great too! Lemon balm, chamomile, passion flower, and more can help to relax the body.
Some essential oils, like lavender and frankinscence can be incredibly helpful in really small doses.
All of these do not fatigue the body’s ability to naturally produce melatonin. All of these are incredibly safe to use.
So, if your child has been reliant on melatonin and you’re ready to stop — it is possible. Habit changing, healthy nutrition, and more can help give your child the strategies they need for years to come. No pills, no risky OTC supplements.