There’s an ongoing debate about melatonin for babies, whether or not we should be giving it at night to make them sleep well. Whether it works and how much does depends on who you ask — but there are many people out there that feel strongly about one side of the issue or another.
This article will discuss everything from what melatonin is, its uses in adults as well as infants and young children, and all the facts surrounding common safety questions. It may also answer some of the most commonly asked “is melatonin for babies good?” questions parents have had over time.
What Is Melatonin?
The name sounds like something straight out of science fiction (or maybe even a horror movie), but melatonin is very real. This naturally occurring chemical was first discovered by scientists back in 1958 when a researcher accidentally stumbled upon it during research into chemicals found in plants. Since then, more than 100 studies have been conducted using human subjects around the world. Researchers are still studying the effects of this amazing compound today!
As mentioned above, melatonin plays a key role in regulating our bodies’ circadian rhythms. A circadian rhythm is simply any biological process that follows a 24-hour cycle — such as body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and so forth. Our normal circadian patterns begin forming before birth, with 90 percent of them established by age 3.
For those unfamiliar with biology terms, let me break down just what melatonin does:
- It helps keep us awake by stimulating the production of hormones called hypocretins that stimulate wakefulness centers within the hypothalamus region of the brain.
- It regulates the timing of sleep/wake cycles [source] via two different pathways: One pathway involves reducing the amount of time spent in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which causes vivid dreams while increasing NREM (non-REM) sleep. Another important factor here is known as the “sleep inertia” effect where a person wakes up dazed and groggy after waking from a deep sleep. Researchers believe melatonin can reduce the incidence of this problem through stimulating GABAB receptors located in the cortex area of the brain
- It has antioxidant properties that protect cells against free radicals that cause damage to DNA and proteins. Free radical formation occurs naturally in the body every day due to pollution exposure, sunburns, cigarette smoke, etc., causing cellular damage. Research shows that taking vitamin C along with melatonin protects the body better than either alone
In addition to these benefits, other health issues associated with chronic insomnia include fatigue, headaches, depression, anxiety, memory loss, increased risk of cancer, and diabetes, among others. So if you suffer from any of these conditions, consider looking into melatonin treatment options.
How Does Melatonin Work For Babies And Infants?
Now that we know what melatonin does — both inside and outside the body — let us take a look at how it might benefit babies and young children. According to Dr. Richard Gartner, medical director of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C.:
When given to newborns, melatonin increases total nighttime duration, decreases daytime naps, improves sleep continuity, and reduces infant irritability. For older infants and toddlers, it promotes longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep. Older preschoolers often do not respond to melatonin because of maturational differences between themselves and younger siblings…[but] I would recommend trying it again next year since the dose used in this study is small, especially compared to doses typically used in adult trials. If significant improvement isn’t seen, try lowering the dose until the response is achieved.
So now you understand the basic premise behind melatonin use in babies and young children — but what happens once they start getting older? How long do you need to continue treating your child with melatonin? What kind of side effects could occur? Keep reading to find out.
Before you give melatonin to a child, talk to their doctor
If you’ve decided to treat your baby or child with melatonin at bedtime, consult your pediatrician beforehand. Although the FDA approved melatonin for certain purposes years ago, it hasn’t yet undergone extensive testing for safety and effectiveness. As such, it’s best to speak to your physician about its usage.
Your doctor can advise you on how effective this medication is likely to be for your specific situation based on factors including weight, height, overall physical condition, and general health. Furthermore, he or she can inform you about potential interactions with prescription drugs, herbal remedies, and other non-prescription medications. You’ll want to make sure your child’s doctor approves of any treatments involving melatonin before beginning therapy.
Read more What Causes Snoring In Females And How To Stop It?
Melatonin supplements are a bad idea for babies, why?
While melatonin is generally considered safe for anyone wanting to use it for short periods (i.e., less than 12 hours per night), it shouldn’t be taken continuously without breaks over extended periods. Studies show that prolonged use of this drug can lead to serious negative side effects for infants and children alike.
These include things like severe nausea, restlessness, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, stomach cramps, muscle pain, fever, rash, paleness, weakness, lethargy, jitteriness, confusion, hallucinations, convulsions, chest pains, irregular heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms reported included problems urinating, eating too much, vomiting, drooling, and excessive saliva.
Additionally, melatonin has been shown to interact negatively with other medications such as aspirin and anticoagulant agents like warfarin. More specifically, melatonin interferes with clotting mechanisms involved in preventing strokes and heart attacks. Therefore, don’t mix it with any new medicines unless directed to do so by your doctor. Also avoid combining it with alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine products.
Melatonin for babies dosage
Just like anything else you’d put into your little ones’ mouths, it’s always recommended to check with your pediatrician about proper dosages. Here’s a breakdown of typical doses prescribed for various ages:
- Infants 0 – 4 months: 10 mg orally
- Infants 5 – 11 months: 15 mg orally
- Children 12 – 23 months: 8 mg orally
- 2 – 7 Years Old: 20mg daily divided twice daily
- 8 – 13 Years Old: 10 mg nightly divided into two equal doses approximately four hours apart
- 9 – 14 Years Old: 10 mg nightly divided into two equal doses approximately four hours apart
- 15+ Years Old: 5 mg nightly divided into two equal doses approximately four hours apart
One thing to note is that the dosages listed above were extrapolated from information gathered in large clinical trials involving healthy adults. They aren’t necessarily indicative of ideal outcomes for babies and young children. Instead, doctors must weigh each individual’s sensitivity to the substance based on his or her unique physiology.
Is melatonin safe for kids?
For a short time, the answer is YES, but for a long time of course NOT
Although the long list of risks associated with prolonged melatonin use seems daunting if you choose to go ahead with treatment, be aware that it won’t work forever. Eventually, your child’s body will stop producing sufficient levels needed to trigger positive results. After three weeks, they should discontinue use and wait about five days before resuming consumption.
Once they resume their regular schedule, gradually raise the dosage to see if improvements return. Then, repeat the process until the desired outcome is reached. While this method may sound complicated, it only takes a few extra minutes to run through with your doctor. Who knows, your child may end up enjoying the perks of melatonin sooner than later.
According to a recent report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, roughly 30% of U.S. infants get fewer than six hours of sleep per week, putting them at higher risk for obesity, developmental delays, hyperactivity, and poor school performance. Considering that children spend nearly half of their lives asleep, the importance of good sleep hygiene cannot be overlooked.
Nowadays, though, it may become increasingly difficult to achieve quality Zzz’s — particularly for families dealing with unusual schedules, busy careers, or caring responsibilities. But hopefully, melatonin can prove helpful for helping everyone catch some shuteye.
Researchers recently came across evidence showing that high concentrations of melatonin metabolites exist in breast milk.