Sleep is one of the biggest factors that concern parents. You can enter into any discussion at a Mothers’ Group or the playground and you are bound to end up on this topic. Whether they aren’t sleeping through the night or are refusing to go to bed… sleep issues can cause problems for the whole family. In some more frequent and serious cases, it can also have an effect on their behaviour and experience at daycare, school and even into the adult years.
If you’ve been searching for sleep solutions, then chances are you have come across a million different types of ‘sleep programs’ and possibly the idea of using a Melatonin supplement. Now before you start thinking you’ve stumbled across a pill that is going to fix all your sleep issues, here’s what you need to know:
Our own naturally occurring melatonin helps to regulate our body clocks,. It doesn’t just control our sleep and awake cycles, but virtually every function of our bodies. Melatonin is normally released in the evening and triggered by darkness, which is what helps us to sleep. This is one of the reasons we get so sleepy when the lights go down. When your child’s brain doesn’t release adequate amounts of melatonin at the right times, they will likely have trouble sleeping. For example, if your toddler has been missing naps, frequently unwell or has had a disrupted sleep pattern – then you may notice that their energy levels have been compromised.
What is prescribed Melatonin
Melatonin is a supplemented synthetic form of hormone, that is used to regulate sleep. It is more commonly used for children who have sleep disorders related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Before prescribing your child Melatonin, you must find the root of their sleeping problem as this usually requires more than just a pill.
Is Melatonin safe for my child?
Although there have been minimal findings that prescribed Melatonin is unsafe for your child, there are some side effects that have been concluded following extensive research.
- Supplement changes can cause disturbances in physiological systems (reproductive, cardiovascular, immune and metabolic)
- Dizziness, headaches and daytime sleepiness (with higher doses)
- Diarrhoea, nausea and overall drowsiness
- Bed wetting (with excessive use)
When should Melatonin NOT be used?
If the insomnia is situational i.e your child is losing sleep due to anxiety over a new school or different carer. Or, if the insomnia is short-term i.e your child has a toothache and can’t sleep because of lingering pain.
Are there alternatives to medicating my child?
For most families – absolutely! Many sleep problems can be addressed with behavioural measures. There could be plenty of reasons your child may be struggling with sleep; anxiety, restless leg symptoms or a bedtime that’s set too early – these are just a few.
Melatonin is appealing to some parents, for it’s ability to help their child fall asleep, however it won’t help your daughter who has had an inconsistent bedtime routine, or your son who is having nightmares because they watched a scary movie. Before considering Melatonin, make sure you have considered all potential causes and alternative ways that you can support their sleep.
Here are a few ways to support your child with sleep:
A consistent bedtime routine
Find a bedtime routine that both you and your children enjoy and keep it consistent. Maybe this involves two stories, teeth brushing and getting tucked in, or listening to one lullaby and a soothing pat on the back.
No devices or screen time close to bedtime
Too much light from electronic devices or screens at bedtime, can affect the bodies natural production of melatonin. This therefore gives the body the indication that you aren’t ready for sleep.
Wind down time
If possible dim your house lights at least 40 minutes prior to putting your child to bed. This will create a calm environment, allowing your child to wind down and hopefully fall asleep with ease. Any activity before bed should be calm i.e reading books or sitting quietly doing a puzzle
Pay close attention to their daily ‘routine’
This doesn’t have to be strict 100% of the time, life often gets in the way of a schedule! However, you should try to manage naps according to their age, with as many in a bed as possible. There are also times as your little one gets older, that having too much sleep during the day, can affect their sleep at night.
If you are unsure of how much sleep your little one needs, you can access their daily rhythm via the Kiindred App.
Parents play such an enormous part in setting their little ones up for success with sleep. It is important to understand that sleep doesn’t always come naturally to little ones and they will need your support throughout key development stages.
So before jumping to any medical conclusions, be sure to take a step back and look at what is happening in terms of their routine. By doing this, you may notice things that have been disrupting or over exciting them, and may be able to rectify these things with a few tweaks. If your child doesn’t respond positively to these changes, be sure to reach out to your doctor or medical professional for further support.