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Ask the Pediatrician: Is melatonin safe for children?

Dr. Anna Esparham, American Academy of Pediatrics on

Published in Health & Fitness

Q: Is it OK for my teen to take melatonin to help him sleep?

A: Trouble falling and staying asleep affects 15% to 25% of children and adolescents. Not getting enough sleep can lead to some pretty difficult behaviors and health problems: crankiness, trouble paying attention, high blood pressure, weight problems and obesity, headaches and depression.

Not surprisingly, many parents are searching for solutions to their child's sleep troubles, and some are considering dietary supplements like melatonin.

Melatonin is sold as a sleep aid. It can be found over the counter as a dietary supplement. Its use is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or approved for that purpose.

Melatonin is a 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.

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 pre-established healthy sleep habits that do not include medication. There has been a sharp increase in the number of reported melatonin poisonings in the past few years, so always be sure to store any medicine, vitamins, and supplements in a safe place, where children can’t get them.

 

Often, a child's sleep issues 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.

Blue lights (as from tablets, e-readers or smartphones) have a short wavelength that affects levels of melatonin more than any other wavelength does. The blue light fools the brain into thinking that it is daytime, making us feel more alert when we should be feeling sleepy. Over time, this wreaks havoc on our body's natural production of melatonin. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding exposure to screens for at least one hour before going to bed.

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.

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