(CBS) — Getting your children ready for bed can be a circus in itself. The whole family can be exhausted by morning.
More and more frustrated parents are turning to a readily available supplement: melatonin.
CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports.
For Mindie Barnett, putting her toddler Julian to bed was anything but a dream.
“It would take him sometimes two hours’ time to fall asleep,” she says.
That all changed when a doctor suggested over-the-counter melatonin, a synthetic form of the hormone your body produces to help regulate sleep.
Now, Julian falls asleep within 10 minutes of taking it, the mom says.
Laurie Giblin bought melatonin to help her 10-year-old son, Shane. He had trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep.
“It was affecting school, it was affecting his anxiety. His whole day was affected by it,” she says.
Melatonin use in kids is becoming so common that some companies sell flavored and low-dose versions of it. But Rush pediatrician Renee Slade warns there are no long-term studies on melatonin in kids, and there are concerns that it might affect the onset of puberty.
“For a normal, healthy child, I would not recommend melatonin,” she says.
Doctors suggest trying other approaches. For instance, turn off bright screens before bedtime to increase melatonin the natural way.
Slade says parents should establish a routine with kids, with activities such as bath time, teeth-brushing and telling them a story before bed.
“All of those things, over time, is going to help develop a good sleep pattern for your child,” she says.
The Giblins tried all that, but it didn’t work for Shane. He had a full medical evaluation, even a test in a sleep lab.
Dr. Stephen Sheldon ended up agreeing that melatonin could be helpful for him.
“His sleep has improved dramatically,” the physician says.
He says some children, like Shane, need melatonin to help reset their biological clocks. Shane’s mother reports her son has been more alert during the day.
Dosages can vary, so it’s best to give kids melatonin under a doctor’s care. Both Mindie and Laurie are hoping the need for melatonin will be short term.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says melatonin is considered safe for kids to use temporarily, but behavioral interventions like setting a regular bedtime should be the first treatment option for children.
The organization agrees short-term use of melatonin can be beneficial for kids, particularly for those with developmental disabilities or autism.