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Pediatrician warns against ‘magic-pill’ melatonin for kids’ sleep

By Kathleen Blanchard     Jul 8, 2013 in Health
Some parents turn to melatonin to get kids to sleep that is a sold as a ‘natural’ sleep aid. Shelly Weiss, M.D., president of the Canadian Sleep Society warns melatonin is not safe for long-term use for healthy kids.
Synthetic melatonin sold over the counter is considered a food supplement and therefore not regulated.
Melatonin is a hormone, which is why there are concerns about its safety, especially for use in kids. Hormones could have a negative effect on normal growth and development and sexual function that may not manifest until puberty.
Dr. David Sumati told Fox News giving melatonin to kids could be a ‘huge mistake’, leading to dependency. Instead, he suggests putting kids to bed at the same time every night and turning off the electronics an hour before bed time. Sumati says melatonin can change kids’ hormones, leading to health issues.
If your child can’t sleep, Sumati also recommends trying to discover the underlying problem rather than giving them the so-called “magic sleeping pill” that has become increasingly popular, with sales soaring in the past few years. He says giving melatonin to kids is sending them the wrong message.
The hormone is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It is also an important chemical for sleep that rises and falls with day and night. We produce more melatonin at night time.
But melatonin also influences other hormones related to female reproduction. Males taking melatonin can experience decreased sperm count and enlarged breasts, known as gynecomastia.
Supplements have been linked to irritability and vivid dreams as well as nightmares. There is also no recommended dose for melatonin.
Concerns have surfaced over the past several years that parents are abusing melatonin by using it as a sleep aid for children.
Brent Bauer, M.D., General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic writes in an article “Due to the lack of scientific evidence, and because of some potentially harmful side effects, melatonin is not recommended as a sleep aid for children and teens.”
Bauer also recommends making lifestyle changes that can enhance sleep as an alternative to ‘magic melatonin’ because no one knows how giving the night time supplement can affect children.
He also adds the same concerns about how the hormone could interfere with how the body matures sexually.
Dr. Weiss, a neurologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is concerned parents might be forgetting there are other ways to get children to go to bed, reports CBC news Canada.
Tips for helping kids to sleep include:
• Turn off electronics that shut-down melatonin, including TVs and computers 2 hours before bed.
• Maintain the same bedtime routine. Jessica Alexander of The Sleep Council says "A bedtime ritual teaches the brain to become familiar with sleep times and wake times,” she says. “It programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine” in advice from the NHS
• Keep televisions out of the bedroom so children won’t be tempted. Make the environment comfortable and only for sleeping.
• Let your child read a book or read to them to calm the mind.
• Make sure your child’s mattress is comfortable.
• Keep the room temperature comfortable – between 18-24°C
• Talk to your child about anything that might be upsetting them like pain, bullying at school or other sources of anxiety.
• Dim the lights in the evening as bedtime approaches.
There may be exceptions for children with neurological disorders. Toronto pediatrician Dr. Marvin Gans suggests the pills could be a ‘godsend for children with autism or ADHD.
Dr. Weiss also put together a document for “Autism Speaks” with sleep tips for children with autism.
Most experts agree that melatonin can be used occasionally for sleep problems in both kids and adults. Some parents have given the supplement to their children based on physician recommendation.
Dr. Shelly Weiss, who is studying the hormone for children with epilepsy, warns long-term use of melatonin supplements could be dangerous for healthy kids. She wants parents to know there are other ways that should be employed to get children to sleep.
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