Melatonin and children
If you wake up in the morning more tired than when you went to bed, with very marked dark circles and a thousand yawns, it can only mean one thing: the night with your children was anything but relaxing. Especially when children are very young it can happen that they do struggling to fall asleep or that they wake up during the night and look for mom and dad before falling asleep again. However, when the situation becomes too heavy, both for parents and for the child, it may be useful to consider taking a melatonin-based supplement.
Melatonin is one natural substance It is safe for children and facilitates sleep and maintenance, but should not be seen as the ultimate solution to the problem. As we will explain in this article the Dr. Emanuela Malorgio, Family pediatrician and expert in sleep medicine AIMS (Association of the Paesena of Sleep Medicine), melatonin is a valid help only if combined with a good sleep hygiene.
In this article
- what is melatonin
- sleep hygiene
- when to use melatonin
- age and dosages
- side effects
- times of use
- choose the right product
Melatonin, a natural substance to help you sleep
"Melatonin is a natural substance that is already present as a neuro-hormone in the nature of man and other mammals. Melatonin, produced by the pineal gland, is essential for neurodevelopment and for regulation of the circadian rhythm"explains Dr. Malorgio. We are not talking about a sleeping pill, but a natural molecule that if taken before going to sleep helps the child, but also the adult, to fall asleep in less time and sleep better throughout the night.
La qualità del sonno it is very important for the physical and mental well-being of the whole family and that is why in some situations we choose to resort to melatonin. Attention, however, although this substance is often recommended by acquaintances or pharmacists, before making children take it it is always better assess the situation together with the pediatrician, avoiding "do it yourself" and trying to improve sleep hygiene first of all.Read also: Children's night lights
Sleep hygiene: why it is so important
If the child is having trouble falling asleep or wakes up during the night calling the parents, before even thinking about using melatonin, it is necessary to review the cornerstones of sleep hygiene. When we talk about sleep hygiene we are referring to rules, or better practices, that should be adopted to guarantee the child a adequate and peaceful rest, minimizing the stress or fears associated with it.
As Dr. Malorgio explains, "there are often gods small mistakes that parents can commit during the growth of the child, even a little for survival, which unfortunately can lead to an alteration of sleep hygiene ". This alteration then translates into a difficulty in spontaneous falling asleep and in numerous nocturnal awakenings . In these cases, melatonin could help the child but, as the pediatrician says, "to improve the situation it is first of all necessary work on habits that we give to the baby, so that he learns to fall asleep in a quiet, autonomous way and above all at the correct time. In this way, when the little one wakes up in the night, which he will certainly do because it is physiological to wake up a couple of times, he will be able to go back to sleep alone in complete tranquility ".
This is why before even talking about the dosages and times of use of melatonin, which we reiterate can be an excellent help for the child, it is important to learn how to set correct habits, so that the child can rest peacefully.
Let's see the expert's advice.Read also: The rules of good sleep for children
Respect the child's schedule
The first tip is to respect the child's schedule which, especially in the first year of life, are not the same as those of us adults. Starting from the 5th-6th month of life, the baby will begin to have a sleep more similar to ours, but at different times. "We have to look at the baby and understand when he needs to rest. Let's not keep him awake just because mum or dad come home from work and want to enjoy him a little and play with him." As much as I may like the little one to be with the parent for a while, like this we are pushing away the moment of falling asleep and shortening the sleep period.
Let the baby sleep in his own bed
The second advice of Dr. Malorgio is to teach the child to fall asleep alone in his own bed. During the first months of life it is perfectly fine to sleep the baby in your arms, but then slowly we have to give him the opportunity to to be autonomous in this phase of falling asleep. By doing so, when the baby wakes up a couple of times during the night (it is a physiological thing), if we have taught him to fall asleep independently, he will not need us or the pacifier to get back to sleep. This is good for him because he will be a quieter sleep and the awakening will be much shorter, but it is also good for mothers and fathers who will not be awakened during the night and during the day they will be more peaceful and energetic.
The room dedicated to rest
Finally, the last suggestion of Dr. Malorgio concerns the place where the child usually sleeps. The sleep of children, in fact, must also be respected for the "seat". It means that when the baby wants to sleep, she should do it in the place where he usually rests, be it his bedroom or his parents' room. Having the child sleep once in the kitchen, once in the living room, once in the stroller and once on the sofa does not allow him a true and deep rest and he is not used to having a "place of sleep"where he can rest peacefully. As the pediatrician points out," a good percentage of children have sleep disorders linked to this habit of letting them sleep where it happens.
If, on the other hand, we accustom the child to always sleeping in the same room, when he wakes up at night he will understand that he is in the environment in which he is used to sleeping even during the day, a place where feels safe and secure. If that doesn't happen because the baby is sleeping all over the house, waking up could generate some anxiety and maybe the baby might cry. Let's think about how we would feel lost if we fell asleep in the room and woke up on the sofa.
When to use melatonin in children
Once you have learned the "rules" for getting your baby to rest better, it's time to put them into practice. "Usually in 90% of cases these tips are sufficient to make the child sleep peacefully. Where the problem is a little more consolidated and the sleep disorder is rooted, then it could be useful to let the child take a supplement based on melatonin, especially in the first phase of the journey ".
Melatonin + sleep hygiene
Melatonin alone is not the panacea but, combined with sleep hygiene, it is a valid help for children and also for parents who are exhausted by sleepless nights. "It can be used in all children, unless there are problems related to some particular pathology or to the interaction of the molecule with other drugs. In any case it is always better to ask the pediatrician for advice to adequately assess the situation" reiterates Dr. Malorgio, expert in sleep medicine.Read also: Go to sleep without tears: how to make your baby fall asleep without making him cry
From what age and in what dosages to use melatonin
Melatonin can be used in pediatric age already starting from the 5th-6th month of life. Using it before the 5th-6th month would not make much sense because at that age there is no circadian rhythmicity.
As regards the dosage, as Dr. Malorgio states, "a supplement in drops containing 0,5-1 milligram of melatonin is generally recommended". A very low and safe dosage for all children, with no side effects. The maximum dosage of 1 mg is precisely the limit decided by the Ministry of Health, in compliance with the directives of the European Union and EFSA (the European Food Safety Agency), to consider melatonin as a supplement. At higher doses it is considered a real drug.
Does melatonin have any side effects?
Melatonin it is safe and almost free of side effects for children, so much so that there are not even maximum doses considered toxic. In general, however, it is always not recommended to take a supplement based on melatonin if you are allergic to it or to other substances present in the compound.
How long to use melatonin
Some parents may be concerned that the child associates bedtime with melatonin drops, but in reality the problem does not arise, especially since melatonin is usually never used for long periods. "Melatonin must be used at a time when we re-educate the child to a good sleep - explains Malorgio - and this re-education gives good results, even in the most difficult situations, within a month or two".
Only in case of neurodevelopmental problems or autism spectrum disorders can melatonin be used even for longer periods.Read also: The most beautiful classic lullabies
How to choose the right product
We have seen that melatonin is a safe substance with no side effects for children, but not all products on the market are the same and it is therefore important to know choose the right one for children.
In this regard, Dr. Malorgio states that "some American studies have shown that some over-the-counter products (based on melatonin) may have very different concentrations of melatonin, both upwards and downwards, and may also contain substances that have little to do with melatonin and that are not good for the child, such as Serotonin".
In fact, in a study published a few years ago in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the authors claim to have detected the presence of serotonin in 26% of the supplements analyzed.
So how can you be sure you are giving your child a really good product? Dr. Malorgio suggests that get advice from your pediatrician the most suitable product, avoiding the so-called "do it yourself".
- Advice from Dr. Emanuela Malorgio, family pediatrician and expert in sleep medicine;
- Paesena Federation of Pediatric Doctors (FIMP), Melatonin, evolution of applications in neonatology and pediatrics;
- Del Paesena Society of Pediatrics (SIP), one in four children suffer from sleep disorders. The 10 golden rules for making the little ones sleep, the older ones (and even mum and dad);
- Melatonin Natural Health Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and Significant Variability of Melatonin Content, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2022.
- children's sleep
- lack of sleep
- child sleep disturbances