Sleep-Aids for Kids May Do More Harm Than Good

We Tried It 57

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.

More from The Stir: 5 Ways to Make Your Family's Morning Routine Go Smoother (HA HA HA)

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

kid health, kid sleep


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nonmember avatar NoWay

My doctor said melatonin is fine for my 12 year old. We only use it occasionally.

shann... shannipoo714

my kids used melatonin for a short time to get them on a sleep schedule and then they came off of it. now we only use it once in a great while

handy... handy0318

Yep, I let my daughter use melatonin when she needs it. I started allowing it when she was 11 and needed to be up by 5:00am to make it to school. A good night's sleep is important and melatonin is well established as a safe sleep aid. She certainly doesn't use it every night...but when she needs it, it helps.

It's common sense, it won't hurt a kid if used only occasionally... and if a child needs a sleep aid more than "occasionally" then that right there is a reason to see the doctor.

I wouldn't use any kind of sleep aid, herbal, natural or otherwise with a really young child.  

Pinkmani Pinkmani

As a teenager, my parents let me use melatonin occasionally. I was up from 6am to 11pm...

mompam mompam

My son took melatonin for a while. He has add and night time was a disaster. He also had late hockey practices so winding down never happened.

mompam mompam

How do sleep aids do harm? You say that in the title.

Michelle Harvey

Melatonin is quite necessary for many (but not all) autistic kids.  I'm not going to go on a tirade here, I wish the article had mentioned it, but google it. 

Flori... Floridamom96

This is just one doctor's opinion. I think it's best to get advice on this subject from your child's doctor rather than a physician who doesn't know your child.

tabba2 tabba2

I have 2 kids that have to have it to sleep - at first it was just to help establish a nighttime sleep pattern and I took them off, it was obvious that without it they werent going to bed willingly, no matter what I did. I talked to their Doc and it was agreed that a small dose of it nightly would be fine. Both of them have ADHD and I suspect (and am having him evaluated) that one has Autism.

I also used it on my night owl son, the youngest, to get him use to sleeping for school - it worked wonders and now he passes out at 9pm or sooner nightly without the Melatonin

nonmember avatar 32weeks

Don't give kid's melatonin pills. If anything just give them a cup of 100% tart Cherry juice. At least the melatonin in that is natural.

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