Facts about Melatonin:
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep-wake patterns. The hormone naturally peaks in the late evening causing drowsiness, and drops dramatically in the early morning resulting in morning arousal. Over the counter Melatonin is a plant based product which is chemically modified to mimic the naturally occurring human hormone. It is currently being marketed as a supplement and has gone under the radar of the Food and Drug Administration. Recently, researchers discovered that melatonin may increase the level of a hormone called Gonadotropin Inhibitory Hormone which can negatively affect the testes and ovaries.
The occasional use of Melatonin for up to 2 weeks at a time, 2-3 times a year, is likely fine, but we can no longer safely recommend the nightly use of Melatonin for prolonged periods of time.
A few tips to help your child who is having trouble falling asleep:
- Promote physical activity and exercise. Kids who are more physically active during the day take less time to fall asleep, sleep longer, and seem to have a deeper sleep.
- Avoid feeding your child any foods or drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea, iced teas, etc).
- After dinner, avoid all stimulating activities and scary stories or TV shows.
- Warn your child that the bedtime routine starts in 5 minutes.
- Establish a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine that lasts between 20 and 30 minutes and ends in your child's bedroom. This routine should not include TV or any other electronic screen or media. It's better to read a favorite book every night than a new one because it's familiar and less stimulating.
- Make sure the bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.
- Avoid singing or rocking your child to sleep because if she wakes in the middle of the night she may need you to sing or rock her back to sleep then as well. (If you have already been doing this, try to phase this behavior out gradually. Instead, have her get used to falling asleep with a transitional object, like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal).
- If your child calls for you after you've left his room, wait a few moments before responding. This will remind him that he should be asleep, and it'll give him the chance to soothe himself and even fall back asleep on his own while he is waiting for you.
- If your child comes out of her room after you've put her to bed, walk her back and gently but firmly remind her that it's bedtime.
- Give your child tools to overcome his worries. These can include a flashlight or a large stuffed animal to "protect" him.
- Set up a reward system: Each night your child goes to bed on time and stays there all night, she gets a star. After three stars, give her a small prize.