Melatonin: Why It May Not Be As Helpful As You Hoped

Posted on Jun 1, 2017 |

During a recent trip to Whole Foods, a small, strategically-placed package of chocolate caught my eye at check-out. The label said the product had 1mg of melatonin per piece, and users should take no more than four pieces.

I had to laugh because, when it comes to chocolate, I have minimal restraint.

“Watch out for that stuff,” cautioned the lady in line behind me.

“Oh! You’ve tried it?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “But people don’t use melatonin correctly. And now it’s being added to candy!”

She had a point.

Melatonin is a hormone the body produces naturally as a reaction to darkness. As darkness occurs, the hormone level rises and the body is better prepared for sleep.

Studies show that parents are increasingly giving their children melatonin with the obvious hope of solving – or even partially solving – their child’s sleep issues, most of which are behavioral.

Unfortunately, melatonin also does not induce sleep – at least not directly – as some might hope. Darkness helps trigger the release of melatonin, while natural light does the opposite. In other words, when produced at the correct levels, melatonin helps our bodies prepare for sleep by sending signals to begin winding down.

You don’t need an expert to tell you that preparing children for sleep takes more effort than simply turning off the lights. Because our kids are receiving so much stimuli throughout the course of a day, we need to do a lot more to help their bodies prepare for sleep than relying on melatonin alone.

This is where routines and early bedtimes come into play. Undoubtedly, this is the hard part. While it certainly can be done, many families find it difficult to structure their days in a way that prioritizes sleep. It takes planning, flexibility, patience and consistency…lots and lots of consistency.

It would be so much easier to go for a quick-fix in the form of a supplement. And sometimes that’s not a bad idea. If your issues are short term – say trying to adjust your child’s internal clock a bit over the course of a few days – melatonin might help do the trick.

But, experts believe that trying to solve chronic sleep issues with melatonin on a daily basis can lead to long-term problems. For one, it is believed that melatonin supplements have varied side effects with long-term use, including daytime drowsiness, headaches, and dizziness. That’s not something to mess with, especially when it comes to little ones.

Offering children melatonin, often touted as a natural sleep remedy, seems like a harmless approach. After all, when your little one is boycotting naps and waking 4-5 times at night, you’re willing to try anything.

Melatonin, often labeled as natural sleep remedies, don’t actually fit the bill of “natural.” While melatonin used to be extracted from animal brains (think cows) it is now synthesized in laboratories and sold by vitamin and herbal supplement manufacturers. Anything synthesized in a lab is not going to fit the bill of “natural.”

Unsurprisingly, this brings us back to that age-old adage: quick-fixes, while gratifying, rarely address the underlying issues.

Through a judgment-free approach, Sleep Pea helps parents identify and address their child’s underlying sleep issues. By providing parents with a customized plan and helping parents implement that plan over the course of days and weeks, Sleep Pea helps take the guesswork out of sleep teaching. Instead, parents become increasingly confident about reading and responding to their child’s cues and are able to reap the benefits of healthier sleep habits.

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