Melatonin to help with sleep?

Q: Our 3-year-old son is having sleep troubles. Our friends are recommending melatonin supplements (gummies). Are they safe? 

A: Sleep problems in a 3-year-old are common and normal. Children at this age want to know their parents are available to them at any time, day or night. They want to delay sleep as long as possible, oftentimes by highly creative methods. 

They want the independence of having their own toddler bed, but the choice of when to sleep in that bed. While these issues are challenging for parents, they highlight the normal developmental pattern for children. 

Before turning to medications to treat sleep difficulties, parents should promote a healthy sleep pattern. Parents can prevent sleep problems by recognizing how daytime naps and dietary choices impact nighttime sleep. Establishing a sleep routine that’s calming, comforting and a predictable length of time can be very helpful. 

Even when sleep routines are followed, however, as many as 25 percent of children still have problems falling asleep. Difficulty falling asleep is typically defined as being awake 

30 to 45 minutes after lights have been turned off and sleep routines have concluded. 

Children who are frequently having difficulty falling asleep and meet this criteria may be candidates for an oral form of melatonin. Melatonin is a natural neuro-hormone, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that promotes sleep-wake cycles. 

Taking an additional amount of melatonin, more than the brain normally makes, may help improve falling asleep times by 15 minutes or more. Melatonin is classified as a dietary supplement and doesn’t require a prescription. 

It is generally a safe medication. Usually, low doses are tried initially and increased over time if needed. But, as with any medication or supplement, be sure to speak to your child’s primary care physician before starting melatonin.