Our son takes medication to help him sleep. Melatonin, in fact.
We have shared about our sleep issues on the blog and our social media a number of times, but I don’t talk about one of the solutions we found that mostly has helped.
You may have heard of it, you may have even tried it for jetlag or sleep issues yourself.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the pineal gland in the brain. It plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm, which controls our daily patterns of wakefulness and sleep. Melatonin production is influenced by the amount of light we are exposed to, with levels increasing in the evening and peaking at night, helping to signal to our body that it’s time to sleep.
Melatonin is often referred to as the “sleep hormone” because of its role in promoting and regulating sleep. It helps to initiate and maintain sleep by reducing alertness and promoting relaxation. Many people take melatonin supplements to help with sleep problems, such as insomnia or jet lag, as it can be particularly useful in resetting the body’s internal clock when traveling across time zones.
Aside from its role in sleep regulation, melatonin also has various other functions in the body. It acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Some research suggests that melatonin may have potential benefits for conditions such as migraines, anxiety, and depression due to its calming and mood-regulating effects. Additionally, it may play a role in immune system function and have antioxidant properties.
We opted for melatonin as a route to help our son sleep, when he was about 8 years old. We had been through years and years of sleepless nights, horribly difficult bedtimes and stress. He was exahusted, we were exhausted. Getting him to go to sleep seemed impossible.
You don’t just pop to get Melatonin for your child. It’s a medication that is controlled and it’s not readily prescribed for children. I had used it at work, when I was working with children with long term sleep issues, so I knew what it was and how it works.
Our son was being seen by a pediatrician and an ENT consultant for his sleep, hearing and speech issues. He was referred to an occupational therapist for help with sleep. We spent 6 weeks working with them, and then they suggested that melatonin would be a safe option to try.
But first we had to attend a “clean sleep” training session with other parents. This was to make sure we were doing all the right things in terms of bedtime and not just. so to speak flying blind but missing obvious things that might cause sleep issues or stop him falling asleep.
- keeping bedtime calm
- having a routine
- minimising sugary drinks before bedtime
- making sure he wasn’t hungry or thirsty, and that was keeping him awake
- making sure his room was suitably set up for sleep – dark, not too hot or cold, suitable bedding, no noise that would disturb him, no screens
- Not going to bed too late or too early and not having naps in the daytime that he didn’t need (he stopped napping at aged 2, well before his peers did
Once we had attended the clinic and we had also been seen by a doctor to make sure he didn’t have any underlying health issues causing his sleep problems, we were given the green light and 3mg of slow release melatonin was prescribed for him. One capsule, half an hour before he climbed into bed and turned out the light.
It felt very strange to be medicating our child for sleep, and I did have some parent guilt that we somehow hadn’t cracked his sleep issues and that we must have done something wrong somewhere to cause his sleep problems. We opted for melatonin, because it doesn’t have the side effects that traditional sleep inducing medicines do, it’s not addictive and your body doesn’t “rely” on it. You also don’t feel groggy the next day. There are pros and cons to taking melatonin, but we felt the benefits outweighed the risks and we were, frankly, desperate.
Does it work?
Yes, it does. It did work, and we noticed he was falling asleep within 45 minutes of going to bed, instead of 2-3 hours before. It also seemed to help him stay asleep for longer stretches which made a huge difference to his overall sleep and also helped him feel less tired as a result. This helped us to get a handle on some behaviour issues that were magnified greatly by lack of sleep and tiredness.
We monitor him carefully. Some children are known to sturggle with night terrors or nightmares when taking melatonin, and we have dealt with this, with him. We stop the mediciation for a few weeks if this happens. He is reviewed by his doctor every 6 months to check if it is working and if he needs a higher dose or to stop it.
It wasn’t a light decision we made, but it was right for us. I would say, that if it is something that is suggested for your child, to work with your medical practitioner to see if it is the best option.
Melatonin works for us, I am glad we chose that path. Now know he has ADHD, we understand more how his brain works and the implications on his sleep habits. But melatonin saved his sleep and saved us, too.