Who here hasn’t heard of melatonin by now?
No one, probably.
I know I've been hearing about it - and about kids being dependent on it to fall asleep - for years.
But let's talk about the REAL melatonin. The stuff your body makes. Cuz the stuff you buy in a bottle is just copycat.
Remember the Circadian Cycle? That's the real Melatonin Master. As I mentioned there, one of the things that our body clock does is regulate hormones. There are a lot of hormones that play a part in sleep, but the one that is nicknamed "the sleep hormone" is melatonin.
We have melatonin in our bodies all throughout the day, but when evening comes, and things start to get dimmer, our bodies start pumping out melatonin in higher levels. The higher concentration of melatonin helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. Come the wee hours of the morn, melatonin levels start to drop and cortisol levels (that's one of our major awake hormones) start to rise.
Here's the thing, though: as much as our circadian cycle is the major determinant in melatonin production, we also have to give our body the proper cues to make that melatonin start coming.
Ever heard you shouldn't look at a screen before bed? This is why! Screens emit loads of blue light, which will inhibit melatonin production, and stimulate the brain - also making it hard to go to sleep.
Do you keep your house really bright right before you or your kids go to bed? Do they play outside in the bright summer sunlight right before bedtime? That'll also inhibit melatonin production.
How about a good bedtime routine? Do you dim the lights, and give them a cueing system to know that bedtime is coming up?
So here's the deal, folks. Artificial melatonin (that's the stuff you can buy) is not a "natural remedy." It's not something that's being regulated by the FDA, and doses may not necessarily match the numbers you're seeing on the bottle. Every company is different and every batch is different.
And while we have not yet seen any real studies with real children and any real results, fact of the matter is, we just don't know. (And there have been some studies done on animals that show detrimental effects.) Melatonin bottles that I see all say that they should not be used for more than 2 weeks, yet I know people who use them for months and months or even years... and don't even realize it could be a problem.
Most of the time, artificial melatonin supplements are just used as a bandaid for a child who does not have proper sleep hygiene - and that's what we call a prop. A prop that may actually not be safe or healthy for your child.
So before turning to bottles to get our kids to sleep, let's go back to the basics. Build a nice solid bedtime routine, make sure your child has an age-appropriate bedtime as well as time to wind down before bedtime, watch those screens, and dim the lights.
Sure, it takes a bit more effort than popping a meli-chew, but the results are real: your child will be able to produce the melatonin he or she needs to be able to sleep well at night.
And that is what you really want, right?
Can I get an “aye!” in the comments?