2018-01-17 / Health

Physicians warn against giving melatonin to children

Sleep aids are a multibillion dollar business which may have a new set of customers – children.

Parents desperate to get their troubled sleepers to bed are turning to synthetic melatonin, which is a supplement sold over the counter.

The body’s internal clock is coordinated by the hormone melatonin, essentially telling the body when to go to sleep and when to wake up.

Available in pill form, adults can self-prescribe melatonin to ease insomnia or jet-lag. Melatonin can help an individual get their body in sync with their environment.

A growing number of parents are now giving the supplement to their children who have trouble going to sleep.

Michael Smith is a naturopathic physician and founder of Carolinas Natural Health Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I think long-term use to force your child to get to sleep doesn’t make sense,” Smith warns.

While melatonin naturally occurs in the body, synthetic melatonin has not been medically endorsed for use in children.

Sold as a dietary supplement, FDA approval or regulation of manufacturers is not required.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Melatonin should not be used in most children. It is possibly unsafe. Because of its effects on other hormones, melatonin might interfere with development.”

Most studies evaluating children who have used melatonin have been with those dealing with a developmental disability.

In these cases, melatonin use had some success, but these children either didn’t produce the hormone at all or, at least, not efficiently.

“Beyond that, we need to start looking at what’s really the issue with the child--what’s going on here?” Smith says.

Before administering any supplement to a child, Smith recommends parents alter their child’s bedtime behaviors first.

Eliminating caffeinated drinks, and limiting television and bright electronic screens before bedtime are all tried-and-true techniques with no side effects.

The side effects of melatonin use include headaches, drowsiness and stomach ache.

While you may be desperate to get your children dreaming, before tucking them in with help from any sleep aid or treatment, consult with your child’s pediatrician first.

There may be a medical reason for your child’s sleep troubles, like a breathing problem, and yet one more reason why it’s so important to seek your family doctor’s advice.

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