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Healthy Children: Melatonin and Children’s Sleep

Dr. Anna Esparham, Neurology


Trouble falling and staying asleep affects 15% to 25% of children and adolescents. Not getting enough sleep often leads to some pretty difficult behaviors and health problems—crankiness, trouble paying attention, high blood pressure, weight problems and obesity, headaches, and depression. It's no wonder why many parents are searching for a solution.

Good sleep habits are the best medicine

Often, a child's shut-eye troubles can be solved with good bedtime routines. What the actual routines are can be specific to your child and his or her age, but they should occur each night around the same time. This will help your child understand that it's time to settle down and get ready to sleep.

The key to successful sleep routines is consistency. When starting a new sleep routine, it may take a while to get established. But don't give up! Routines are great for kids and well worth the time it takes to get them going.

If no matter how hard you try, you are unable to establish a good bedtime routine for your child, talk with your pediatrician to see if there are any other issues that might be causing your child's sleep difficulties.

What parents should know about melatonin

Melatonin is a natural, hormone-like substance produced by an area in the brain called the pineal gland. It is released naturally at night and tells the body it's time to sleep.

Melatonin is sold as a sleep aid. It can be found over the counter as a dietary supplement, which means you can buy it at the pharmacy or a health food store, without a prescription. However, this also means that it's use is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or approved for that purpose. More on this here.

While melatonin plays a role in sleep; it is NOT a sleeping pill. It should only be used after a discussion with your pediatrician and preestablished healthy sleep habits that do not include medication.

Melatonin may be a short-term way to help some kids get rest while you keep trying to establish good bedtime routines. It may also help some older children and teens reset sleep schedules―such as after vacations, summer breaks, or other interruptions. Most teens, after all, require more sleep―not less. Getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.―and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day; this is where melatonin may help.


Read the entire article via HealthlyChildren.org.

Click here for more sleep tips from Children's Mercy.

Learn more about the Pediatric Neurology department at Children's Mercy.