Paging Dr. Whitney Roban, Ph.D: Why Melatonin is NOT the Answer to Your Child’s Sleep Problems
Almost every parent I know goes a *touch* crazy when their little ones aren’t sleeping. Repeated 5 AM wake-ups can make even the most reasonable person willing to try virtually anything to get a little more shut-eye! Some desperate parents have recently started turning to Melatonin as a possible solution. But as Dr. Whitney Roban, Ph.D., of Sleep-Eez Kids, explains, that is one approach that is decidedly NOT OK. Find out more below!
In parents’ desperation for their children to sleep through the night, many have turned to the popular adult sleep aid, Melatonin. However, Melatonin usage in children has not been empirically validated. Furthermore, there also exits the potential for harmful side effects and the potential for negative interactions with other hormones in a child’s body. There is also the possibility that Melatonin could affect children’s future fertility and sexual development. Therefore, it’s use should not be recommended as a sleep aid for children.
Although Melatonin has shown some success for sleep problems in children with developmental disabilities such as Autism, this is due to these children’s physical inefficiency in producing Melatonin naturally. The use of the synthetic Melatonin is not recommended for use in children without developmental disabilities. The National Institutes of Health goes so far as to report that Melatonin usage “should not be used in most children” and that it is “possibly unsafe.”
A better route for parents is to take a closer look at what really and truly is the cause of the children’s sleep problems. In many cases, the sleep issues do not have a medical cause. They are more likely due to environmental and behavioral factors such as developmentally inappropriate sleep schedules or no sleep schedule at all, inconsistency in dealing with the sleep issues, lack of bed time routines, and unhealthy pre bedtime sleep habits, to name a few. In older children, a big cause of sleep problems is the use of electronic devices such as computers and TV’s before bed. The light that is emitted from these devices tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime and as such, causes the body to halt the production of Melatonin. A good rule to follow is to turn off all electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime (this goes for adults as well!). When parents are willing to look at the true root of the problem and commit to making changes in their family that will lead to healthy sleep habits, they will see positive improvements in their children’s sleep.
In my private practice as a pediatric sleep specialist, I work with parents whose children have behavioral sleep issues. Through the years many parents have told me that they had first tried Melatonin in the hopes of improving their children’s sleep. However, none of these parents reported any significant improved sleep during Melatonin usage, and were finally ready to try a cognitive/behavioral approach to sleep improvement. Due to the fact that all of their children’s sleep issues were behavioral in nature, it was the sleep training program that we developed together that ultimately offered the success they were looking for. Unfortunately, most children do not innately possess good sleep skills. These skills must be learned and it is up to the parents to teach them to their children. Yes, implementing and committing to a behavioral sleep program is a lot more difficult than giving your child a sleep aid in the form of a pill. However, it is safe and effective way to teach children healthy sleep habits that will last a lifetime.