BOSTON (CBS) – Putting a toddler to bed can be anything but a dream.
“It would take him sometimes two hours’ time to fall asleep and it essentially required me to rock him in a chair,” says mom, Mindie Barnett, about her son, Julian.
But that exhausting bedtime routine became a breeze when the pediatrician suggested melatonin, a synthetic form of the hormone your body naturally produces to help regulate sleep. Now Julian falls asleep within 10 minutes of taking the supplement.
Melatonin is commonly recommended for children with neurological or developmental disorders but a growing number of parents are now giving it to healthy kids who just can’t seem to sleep.
“At least for short term use, it tends to be effective for helping a child fall asleep,” explains Dr. Kiran Maski of Boston Children’s Hospital.
At the hospital’s sleep laboratory, Dr. Maski sees all kinds of kids with sleep issues. While melatonin is generally considered safe there haven’t been any studies on long-term side-effects. And melatonin is known to have some impact on the systems in the body that govern puberty related changes.
So, sleep experts say it should only be a temporary solution under doctor supervision, “we caution against the idea of a sort of thinking of sleep as easy as a magic pill that will solve all their problems including melatonin,” says Dr. Maski.
Dosing can also be confusing. A child usually requires much less than the amount sold on stores shelves. And while it’s non-habit forming, there are concerns about a psychological dependence.
“I’ve actually had five and six-year-olds who ask their parents for their melatonin dose at bedtime and that worries me,” explains Dr. Judith Owens of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
But there could be a simple supplement-free solution says Dr. Maski. “We try to really establish good sleep habits as a first line defense simply because it sets the child up better for long term sleep health.”
Better sleep habits like turning off the TV and tablets at least one hour before bedtime and sticking to the same bedtime every night.
So how do you know if you should consider melatonin for your little night owl?
If your child is tired all day long and that’s affecting his or her mood, play, and learning it might be time to talk to the doctor.