Melatonin Effective for Insomnia in Children
Children who have difficulties falling or staying asleep may benefit from taking melatonin before bedtime, according to a new study in Clinical Pediatrics (2003;42:51–8). The findings of this study suggest that melatonin may help children fall asleep faster and prevent waking during the night.
In the new study, sleep habits of 32 children aged 2 to 18 years who attended a pediatric sleep center because of chronic sleep initiation and maintenance problems were reviewed. Bedtime, awakening time, number of awakenings during the night, and resistance to sleeping were documented, as well as the frequency, duration, and amount of melatonin taken. Melatonin was routinely given one hour before bedtime and the average amount given was about 2 mg per night. The average duration of melatonin treatment was approximately two months.
More than 90% of the children taking melatonin showed an improvement in falling or staying asleep. Only three of the children experienced no benefit with melatonin supplementation. However, the parents of these three children were unwilling to increase the amount of melatonin, so it is unclear whether they would have improved by taking higher amounts. Parents reported that their children fell asleep faster soon after starting melatonin treatment, but it took 1 to 2 weeks until sleep patterns completely normalized. The average amount of time needed to fall asleep decreased from 90 minutes to 25 minutes and the average number of nighttime awakenings per week dropped from 19 to 1. No adverse side effects with melatonin therapy were observed.
The authors also found that the effective amount of melatonin differed between age groups. Children between the ages of 2 to 6 required an average of 1.4 mg per night of melatonin, compared with 2 mg per night in children between the ages of 7 and 11, and almost 3 mg per night in those in the 12- to 18-year-old group. Despite the increased amount of melatonin used with increased age, reductions in time to sleep onset and nighttime awakenings were similar among all age groups.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that plays a key role in regulating sleep patterns. Studies have shown that melatonin is effective in treating sleep disorders, jet lag, some neurological diseases, migraine headaches, and certain psychiatric disorders in adults.
Poor quality of sleep and sleep loss have been associated with behavioral problems, hyperactivity, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and poor concentration in children. In the new study, parents reported their children were more attentive, less hyperactive, performed better in school, and had better moods after their sleep had stabilized. This suggests melatonin deficiency may play a role in the development of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in children and may be related to poor sleep habits. More research is necessary to clarify this issue. Because melatonin is a hormone, with the potential to cause adverse effects in some situations, its use should be monitored by a doctor. Although no significant side effects were seen in the new study, long-term studies are needed to confirm the safety of giving this hormone to children.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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