The alarming trend of using Melatonin in children
Melatonin - the full story
Recently I’ve seen rise to a number of people suggesting melatonin supplements as acceptable ways of making their baby or child sleep.
This has been a theme lately across social media influencers, and this has me quite concerned.
I think openly acknowledging you’re struggling with any aspect of parenthood is flippen brave and kick-ass, and it’s something we all want to hear because we all struggle every now and then - I think influencers who point this out do other mums a real favour and remind us that it’s ok to just be ok, or not be ok, some days!
As mums we all want the very best for our kids, and of course the way we go about achieving that is going to be different, but I wanted to write a post to talk about other avenues you can go down before resorting to a trip to the doctor to attempt to be prescribed melatonin, or less favourably, acquiring what is a prescription medicine through other means.
For those who don’t know, melatonin is considered the sleep hormone and is responsible for us getting sleepy.
This is released in darkness by the pineal gland, one of the reasons being in a dark room is so important for good consolidated sleep.
Babies start to produce their own melatonin at only a couple of months old, and initially this can make sleep cycles very pronounced, particularly during the day, which is why catnapping tends to emerge at this age.
A healthy infant or child brain will readily produce its own melatonin and regulate its own circadian rhythm (biological clock) by around 4-5 months of age.
Food, light, and social interaction all influence this biological clock.
Between 6-8pm each day your childs melatonin levles begin to rise, this natural cycle occurs each day in healthy babies, children, and adults. This is your bodies natural way of preparing you for sleep, and helping you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
You can see in the above graph, that melatonin levels rise, as cortisol drops, your body already has a perfect in built mechanism driving your need to sleep.
This same cycle is happening for our babies and toddlers.
Sometimes adults and children will be prescribed melatonin by a doctor.
But it's important to note here that there are genuinely some children who will need melatonin prescribed - children on the Aspergers and Autism spectrum often suffer from sleep disturbance and melatonin has shown to help in some of these cases.
It’s also important to acknowledge the term ‘prescribed by a doctor’ - it’s a prescription medication so like every other prescription it should not be shared.
The concern I have around melatonin supplements or using/discussing them so flippantly is that there is no substantial evidence to suggest what long term outcomes this may have for adults, let alone babies and children.
More specifically, we don’t yet know if giving artificial melatonin affects the body’s own ability to produce it - and to me that’s too big a risk to be taking when there are so many other ports of call first.
Until it’s been confirmed that this does not influence the body’s own production levels I would personally be very cautious about giving it to my own children, and would only do so with the guidance of my GP.
If you’ve seen my previous blog on phenergan, you’ll know I very much believe medication for sleep should be for those who genuinely need it, or as a very last resort for people who have given other approaches a consistent go with no success.
I’m feeling a bit ‘negative Nancy’ here, so here’s the good news!
Encouraging better sleep from your children and babies can be super easy!
As with everything, consistency is key, but give these tips below a try for a few consecutive days and I would love to hear about the results you have with your little ones!
For toddlers over 2.5-3, you may want to consider dropping or cutting back on their nap if they are regularly difficult to settle for bed at 7pm.
A good way to know how much day sleep your child needs is to trim back by 15mins every 2-3days, and as they become easier to settle at 7pm, you’ll know the correct amount of sleep for them.
A night light might be necessary at this age, but if you’re using one ensure it’s a dim reddish glow. Blue light hinders melatonin production more so than red. - Remove devices and tv at least 2 hours before bed time!
These things are kryptonite to melatonin production!
Implement a relaxed wind down ritual in the lead up to bed time. Use some time in sunlight in the evening after dinner (we call this light therapy) to help your child more naturally produce melatonin when you then take them into a dark environment.
This is a handy tip for early waking also - remember sunlight has a huge effect on our biological clocks! This is a good option for babies too!
Ensure a good flow to their day by aiming for naps in their natural nap windows (these occur between 9-10am, 12-2pm, and 6-7pm).
There’s no natural nap window for a late afternoon nap so if your baby is under 8 months assisting them for a small catnap late afternoon can assist in them going to bed without being over tired.
Generally around a 6.30pm bed time works well for most babies under 18 months old.
Unlike toddlers who may genuinely develop a fear of the dark, babies need darkness for sleep. I would encourage a room as close to pitch black as possible, even for day naps! Dark room = natural melatonin production.
A wind down ritual here is also a really good way to encourage better settling and sleep.
As a senior consultant I’ve worked in my role for the last five years helping families to achieve better sleep, including children with severe illness, brain damage, autism, developmental and behavioural issues so if you need extra support around helping your children to sleep better naturally,
I’d love to help!
You can reach me on 021722428
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Baby Sleep Program helps tired parents TO DEVELOP HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS BY FOCUSING ON NAPS, SETTLING AND NIGHT SLEEP.
- Empowered: Feel empowered as a Mum as you learn to understand your growing baby's needs and cues.
- Simple effective settling: Gentle, proven self settling, evidence based techniques.
- Content happy baby and parents: Better sleep creates content babies & happy parents.
- Freedom: Predictable routines and longer nights creates freedom. Solve your sleep problems for more freedom.
- Work with your babies circadian rhythm: Work with your babies biological clock for faster easier results.
- Awesome naps & nights: You'll create consistent naps and nights with our support.
Try our online sleep program, complete with FREE email support.
My baby has reflux can you help?
When your baby has reflux, feeds can be difficult and your baby can be in a lot of pain both during and after feeds. This pain can cause feeding aversions and failure to thrive. This is why true GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) needs to be treated by a doctor. Once your baby's doctor is satisfied your baby is feeding well, and you have the right medication or formula then we can start a sleep plan and you will be successful.
My baby has colic will this help?
Colic is defined as 3 or more hours of crying per day in infants. Crying subsides in the second second trimester. If you are still experiencing colic symptoms speak to your baby's doctor about whether this could be reflux, an allergy, or over tiredness. We can help you work on better sleep with this program at the same time as your doctor investigates the pain and crying.
What if the program isn't working?
We have a dedicated help line to ensure your success. Just email our team via the details in your program and a certified, experienced and friendly sleep consultant is ready to stare you in the right direction to ensure your success!
My baby was born early, can you help?
Sleep is neurological so we always work off your babies neurological age, that is their corrected age. When you look at our sleep programs purchase the program that your babies corrected age fits into.
What if I have questions or need more help?
Our sleep programs come with private email support. You don’t have to post in any public forums or groups, just email the exclusive helpline that our team of certified sleep consultants look after and we’ll answer all your questions and help you on your way.
Can this program help with my babies night sleep?
Yes, all our online sleep programs contain night sleep plans. We will teach you how to move from multiple night feeds to 2 or 1 or none (depending on what is age appropriate and appropriate for your baby.) Don’t worry we will show you to figure this out too. If your baby is unsettled at night but not feeding, our plans will help you with consolidate night sleep and self settling when age appropriate.
My baby is cat napping can you help?
Cat napping is a very normal physiological stage that your baby goes through. At this stage (3-8 months old), cat napping can start to be a long term issue and compound into over tiredness and affect night sleep and your babies happiness. Good news, this is a great age to work on re-settling, self settling and better longer naps!
I have 3 children, can this work with my family?
I totally understand how busy life is with 2, 3 or more children! Even if you need a flexible schedule we can still work on settling regular naps (some on the go!), and better evenings and night. Flick our consultants any specific questions about your family's schedule of activities and we can help you work out what is possible nap wise.
I don't want a fixed routine, can you still help?
Yes. A fixed routine is one option, regular naps and regular awake times is another. Both are valid and you are welcome to do what works for your family. We understand you are all different and what works best for one family won't be best for another.
I'm formula feeding, can you still help?
Yes we have specific advice for formula feeding parents, and we support your decision to feed any way you choose. We even have a special video series on formula feeding and everything you need to know. Just ask our consultants about this extra if you need it.
I'm exclusively breastfeeding, can I follow your plans?
Yes! While breastfeeding babies need to feed frequently they still need quality sleep day and night. We have specific advice for breastfeeding mums and an exclusive discount on Julia Daleys breastfeeding course if you need extra help.
I'm bed sharing, can your program help me stop?
Yes. We often fall into bed sharing, we call this reactive bed sharing. Or we have simply changed our mind, and moving on from bed sharing we need some support. Our programs and consults will guide you through gentle sleep methods, which are more appropriate for most bed sharing babies who are moving towards independent sleep in the cot.
I'm feeding to sleep, can you help me stop?
Yes. Feeding to sleep is a common sleep association and one that works well for lots of newborns. Often we need to move on from feeding to sleep when it starts to cause short naps, or prolonged settling or frequent night wake ups as baby looks for their association to go back to sleep over and over again at night. We can teach you how to teach your baby to self settle and move on from feeding to sleep when the time is right.
I'm rocking to sleep, is their a solution?
Yes. These are common sleep associations, we refer to this as assisting to sleep. Let us show you ways you can develop independent sleep and settling strategies with our online sleep program, or one on one consult.
Is this program based on Cry It Out?
No. Cry it out is the common name for a sleep training method where you put baby down and don’t respond or check until they are fast asleep. There is no CIO involved in this program as we feel this should be only done under proper supervision. Instead we have included all our very gentle approaches and more mainstream techniques for you to choose from.
Is this based on Science or Art?
Both! As a scientist I (Emma) have spent over 8 years researching the science of sleep. I have educated and certified over 500 consultants around the world as sleep consultants, and have worked with thousands of clients. I love the scientific explanations of why we see the sleep patterns we see, and this science helps us to shape plans and solutions that we know will work. But there's an element of art to getting a baby to sleep, understanding the right combination of things that will work best, and this is where your instinct comes in.
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