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Melatonin for kids: How to safely get your child to sleep

Katie Faley – OSF HealthCare

Every parent knows what it’s like to have a sleepless night because their child just won’t sleep. Sometimes, kids just have a hard time falling asleep.

That leads many parents to seek solutions to help their child fall asleep. One increasingly popular thing to do is give kids a sleep aid.

There are several options, but parents often choose melatonin supplements. That’s because melatonin is a natural part of our bodies. Melatonin is a hormone released by our brains when it’s time to sleep.

The appeal of melatonin is that it’s a natural supplement, but is it safe to give kids?

Is melatonin safe for kids?

 

“Sleep is an important issue. There are many things that we can do behaviorally and environmentally to address underlying sleep issues,” said Sarah Zallek, MD, medical director for the sleep center at OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute.

Melatonin and other sleep aids aren’t Dr. Zallek’s first recommendations to parents whose kids have trouble falling asleep.

“It looks safe. Most of the time, kids are fine if they take melatonin. But, we don’t know the long-term consequences. So, I don’t recommend it,” said Dr. Zallek, “That being said, there are situations where melatonin has proven to be very helpful, particularly for children on the autism spectrum.”

You should always talk to your child’s pediatrician before giving your child any kind of medicine. Children under age 3 should only receive melatonin if it’s been OK’d by the pediatrician.

Melatonin dosage for kids

 

If your child’s pediatrician has given you the go ahead to occasionally supplement your child’s sleep with melatonin, be sure to follow all directions. Melatonin supplements come in the form of tablets, capsules, liquid and gummies.

Knowing the right melatonin dosage for your child is key to using sleep aids effectively. Melatonin should be taken 30 to 90 minutes before bedtime.

Ask your child’s pediatrician about the right dose for a child under age 3.

Child’s weight (3 or older) Maximum melatonin dosage
Less than 88 pounds 0.5-3 mg
More than 88 pounds 1-5 mg

Many children will respond to a low dosage, so start with the lowest dosage first.

It is very important not to give your child more than the recommended dosage for their age and weight.

Melatonin overdose

Because melatonin comes in the attractive-to-kids form of gummies, it is highly important to keep these out of reach of children at all times.

“Kids are curious creatures. Any medication in the wrong dose is potentially dangerous, so parents should be extremely careful to keep melatonin out of reach of kids at all times. Even if it appears safe because it’s over-the-counter, kids can and do overdose on melatonin,” said Dr. Zallek.

Over the past decade, melatonin overdoses in children have increased 530%.

Though melatonin overdoses are not considered life-threatening, always call your child’s pediatrician if they’ve overdosed on melatonin. However, if you notice your child is lethargic, unresponsive, dizzy or has an increased heart rate, call Poison Control Centers at (800) 222-1222.

Melatonin side effects

Melatonin comes with some side effects:

  • Bedwetting
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Agitation
  • Mood changes
  • Dizziness
  • Grogginess, especially in the morning
Healthy sleep habits for kids

If you choose to give your child melatonin to help them sleep, it should be in partnership with other healthy sleep habits. Here are some safe alternatives to melatonin for your child:

  • Routine: Set a routine and stick to it every night.
  • Daytime naps: Keep daytime naps short, especially for older kids.
  • Sleep in bed: Put them to bed while they are awake (instead of letting them fall asleep in your bed, on the couch, etc. and carrying them to bed later).
  • No caffeine: The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry advises against children under 12 consuming any caffeine.
  • No sugar before bed: Every parent can spot a sugar rush in children. Children hyped on sugar have a harder time settling down.
  • Screen time: Cut off screen time 30 minutes before bed.
  • Bed is bed: Keep your child’s bed a place to sleep, not to play.
  • Stay active: Keep kids active during the day so they can get their energy out while it’s light out.
Kids and screens

Screen time before bed – including time on tablets, computers, phones or in front of the TV – can interrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle. These devices emit blue light, which can trick our brains into thinking it’s not nighttime, and thus, our bodies will not naturally release melatonin. It’s important to turn off all devices for kids at least 30 minutes before bed.

About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

This article originally appeared on OSF Health Care.

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