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Melatonin -- When Did Natural Become Unnatural?

It's only natural for parents to want their child to be healthy as they can be and part of helping your child be healthy is making sure that their child gets a good night's rest. But what if your child doesn't sleep well?
02/10/2017 03:24pm ET | Updated February 10, 2018
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As a parent, you want to provide the best for your child. You want them to have the best education, healthiest foods, be active and strong, strong immune systems, and every advantage that we can afford to give them. Parents also want these things to happen with the best ingredients, resources, and methods. With this in mind, it's only natural for parents to want their child to be healthy as they can be and part of helping your child be healthy is making sure that their child gets a good night's rest.

But what if your child doesn't sleep well?

Having a child that doesn't sleep well is hard on everyone. If one member of the house doesn't sleep well, then generally, it will affect others in the house. If the family member that doesn't sleep well is the child, then it's very likely that Mom and Dad aren't sleeping well either. When good sleep isn't be achieved, then other issues can arise as part of the sleep deprivation: being more susceptible to illness, experiencing a decrease in attention spans lengths, weakened ability to focus, and feelings of irritability and crankiness.

Parents, who are desperate for their child to sleep, will turn to many different ideas or sources on how to help their child sleep, and a common avenue that parents of older preschoolers and school aged children will try is to give melatonin supplements at bedtime.

Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone that our body makes to help us fall asleep and stay sleep. So what's wrong with giving your child more of something that their bodies already makes?

As it turns out, there are some big risks to consider.

What Do You Need to Produce Melatonin?
Our bodies are amazing. Given the right environment, the body will produce it's own supplements to help you wake up for the day, fight off infections and illness, grow nerves, bone, muscle, and skin to accommodate a growing body, and it makes its own sleep hormone to help us fall asleep at night. But here is the key: the body needs to be given the right environment.

If the body isn't given the right environment, then it can't utilize its own tools to achieve its natural growth and success. If we don't eat and drink quality nutrients, then our body struggles to grow and develop in an optimal way. If we don't set up our bodies with the right environment to fall asleep, then the body struggles to make melatonin to help us fall asleep and sleep well.

What the body needs in order to produce melatonin naturally is actually pretty simplistic, but in today's society, it's not so simplistic. In order to kick-start the process, the body needs a darker environment, with very little artificial lights and the sentimental adage of "peace and quiet". The biggest suppressant for melatonin is "blue light". Televisions, cell phone screens, tablets, and computers are the more prevalent sources of blue light, and we are constantly surrounded by it. The constant stimulation of the blue light hinders the body's ability to produce melatonin, which in turn, makes it harder for the body to prepare for sleep and stay asleep. This can easily lead to sleep problems in young and school-aged children, especially as they become more comfortable to using technology and it can play a large role in their education and social development.

Too Much of a Good Thing?
If the constant stimulation of electronic and unyielding presence of "blue light" is suppressing the body's ability to make melatonin on its own, then some parents would reason why not simply give your child a melatonin supplement so that they can get all the help that they can get to sleep well? In theory, it's a easy solution to reach. However, here are the issues:

There are no long-term research studies out there that show the impact of giving young children an artificial supplement of a natural hormone, so if you're giving your child melatonin, you're doing so with very little information on what the long-term effects may be. While the melatonin itself would be considered harmless, some short-term studies show that the supplements can impact other systems in young children, such as the cardiovascular, immune, and metabolic systems.

Additionally, melatonin supplements have been reported to cause headaches, dizziness, and daytime grogginess in adults. It is not a stretch to think that children could experience similar effects to the supplements as well.

Another point to consider, melatonin supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so it is not subjected to the rigorous testing that FDA approved medicines and supplements undergo to ensure quality and safety. As a result, researchers have found that there are inconsistencies in various melatonin products sold in the USA. In fact, they found that up to 71 percent of their samples were at least 10 percent off from the written dose on the label, and some of those pills contained nearly 5 times the dosage published on the label. That alone should be met with caution from parents who are considering the use of melatonin to help their child sleep.

What Do I Do?
Help your child's body produce its own melatonin naturally, so that you aren't having to consider adding a supplement to your child's diet to help them sleep better. Here are five ways to achieve this:

1. An hour before bedtime, turn down the lights. You don't have to go pitch black. Dim the lights, or turn off the overhead light and turn on a table lamp. Creating smaller pools of low light throughout the house will help the body kickstart it's own process in producing melatonin and prepare for sleep.

2. Turn off the television, tablets, and cell phones. This is a tough one to do, but makes all the difference. Eliminate the constant presence of "blue light" and your child's body will be able to efficiently jumpstart the process of producing melatonin and be at peak production by the time their little heads hit the pillow.

3. Engage in quiet activities. The time before your child goes to bed is the best time to fit in family time. Read stories together, assemble puzzles, color in their coloring books, or play letter or math games on a board together. Doing these activities can also help prevent the development of the wild and crazy antics that seem to occur right before bedtime and ensure that your littles get quality time with Mom and Dad during the busy work week.

4. Turn the temperature down. The body works best in producing melatonin in a cooler environment and maintain production for a longer period of time that starts in the earlier hours of the evening at bedtime. Set your thermostat for in between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit for the evening and overnight hours.

5. Help your child be active during the daytime hours. A daily routine that is more sedentary in nature can disrupt natural hormone production in your body, including melatonin. With an active day, the rise in growth and recovery hormones following exercise and activity also increases the levels of melatonin produced at night.

When your child isn't sleeping well, it's easy to look outward for solutions to help your child, particularly if their sleep struggles are affecting your sleep. Among many parenting circles, it tends to be considered smart, to look at tips and tricks that have a basis for being natural when it comes to the body and environment. Melatonin supplements, considered a helpful tool for parents among parents, carry unknown risks, and often are a temporary band aid to a significant problem: your child not sleeping well in an environment that's perhaps, unnatural. Giving your child's body the right environment to do what it does best will allow their body to do what it is designed to do, naturally.