Sleep-Aids for Kids May Do More Harm Than Good

kid bedI've got one of those kids who can't fall asleep at night. You know the kind -- you put them to bed and they keep popping back up to go to the bathroom, complain about the heat, announce that they're hungry. ARGH!!! This is why Go the F*ck to Sleep remains one of my all-time favorite parenting books.

Ah, but we moms have our secret weapons. "Melatonin," one mom whispered to me on the playground. I've tried it, and yeah, it works. But how safe is it, really for kids? We talked with a pediatrician to see what he thinks about giving kids sleeping aids.


Dr. William C. Harenburg is a practicing pediatrician at Wheaton Pediatrics outside Chicago, Illinois. He says he has prescribed melatonin for kids with sleeping issues -- but only if other measures haven't worked.

Before recommending melatonin, I always take a careful sleep history and encourage good sleep habits: reducing TV time, no screen time for two hours before bed, dim the lights, and read a quiet book to signal your body it is time to get ready for bed.

Wow, that's pretty serious. And it sounds like there's a lot I could be doing instead of reaching for that melatonin. We do reading time before bed, but I don't always dim the light and there's definitely screen time happening not long before bed.

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Dr. Harenburg also recommends good "bedroom hygiene" -- things like using the bedroom only for sleep, and keeping it free of TV, computers, and tablets. He says he also checks for other, more serious disorders and issues like sleep apnea, allergies, asthma, or sleepwalking, and then, once he's ruled all those out, he may recommend just a small amount of melatonin at bedtime as a trial. "Often kids can be weaned off the melatonin after establishing a good sleep routine."

Even in cases when Dr. Harenburg does recommend melatonin, it's for kids age 5 and older. For younger children, he suggests seeking the guidance of a sleep specialist.

What about newer products, like Dream Water? It definitely does the trick for me when I need it occasionally, but Dr. Harenburg says he's never recommended it for kids -- it contains melatonin, but also gaba and tryptophan.

Bottom line, follow Dr. Harenburg's recommendations for getting kids ready for bed and practicing good bedroom hygiene first. If you're still struggling, see your pediatrician first to make sure nothing more serious is going on. Only use supplements like melatonin if your doctor recommends it.

Have you ever used herbal remedies to help your kids sleep?


Image via Clarkston STAMP/Flickr

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