For overtired parents who can’t seem to get their kids on a healthy sleep schedule, the promise of a magic pill can be pretty enticing.

But it seems to me that more and more doctors and parents are turning to melatonin as a Band-Aid for sleep issues with their children. I get emails every day from people telling me they are giving their babies melatonin to help them fall asleep at night, and I have serious concerns about this.

Here’s the deal: Melatonin is NOT a long-term solution to poor sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits need to be learned at a young age in order to set kids up for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits.

And while some studies have shown that melatonin can be helpful with autistic children or children with ADHD, most babies and children do not need melatonin; they need to be taught good, independent sleep skills.

Here’s why:
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by your brain and is present in every person’s body. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “no other hormone is available in the United States without a prescription. Because melatonin is contained naturally in some foods, the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows it to be sold as a dietary supplement. These do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or controlled in the same way as drugs.”

Dr. Johnson-Arbor, a Hartford Hospital toxicologist, says, “It’s (melatonin) possibly thought to affect growth, and to affect sexual development and puberty.” Other side-effects can include headaches, drowsiness and stomach ache.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Melatonin should not be used in most children. It is possibly unsafe. Because of its effects on other hormones, melatonin might interfere with development.”

There’s no need to put your kids at risk just to get them down for the night. The plain truth is, children need to be taught to sleep properly — and it’s up to you, Mom and Dad, to show them how.

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