Babies are weird, and unless they are Benjamin Button, they are not particularly experienced in ways of living. Because they don’t have to go to work or school and they don’t bear any serious familial responsibilities as of yet, they can sleep at any time they want. However, such inexperience also means that they might have difficulty sleeping at certain times (whether they want to or not) as well.
That is especially true for those who are between 6-18 months old. According to many psychologists and psychoanalysts, this period is one of the most defining ones in the life of a human being as it’s the period an infant starts relating to the outside world mainly through their parents. Therefore, a change of location, a change of weather, or a slight change of routine might affect their sleep-wake cycle. For one reason or another, an infant who cannot see their mother at a certain time in the day might have sleep difficulties that can inexplicably become a sleep disorder if not handled in time and in the appropriate way.
But the question is, is giving them melatonin the appropriate way?
What Is Melatonin?
When you mention “giving melatonin”, it sounds as if our bodies or the bodies of babies do not already contain it, but that’s not the case. We all have melatonin, and it’s a hormone produced by our pineal glands to make us sleepy come nighttime.
Normally, the melatonin levels stay low during the morning when we are subjected to natural light and they rise towards late evening under low light conditions. However, not all of us share the same melatonin levels, nor do we share the same schedule for work and other responsibilities. As a result, we cannot develop or maintain healthy sleep habits or even get enough sleep that can carry us through the day, and some of us need to take sleep aids like melatonin supplements (that you can find over-the-counter and in the form of liquids, gummies, or chewables) to deceive our bodies that it’s sleeping time.
Those supplements work better on people with circadian rhythm problems – that is, those who cannot time their sleep or the hour of their wake-up well. They may also help with those who have an unusually long sleep onset and those who suffer from jet lag. Regardless, unless you already have a low level of melatonin in your body, they can never offer a long-term solution for sleep problems.
Under that light, I can also say that giving the same supplements and pills to healthy young children, especially to a 1-year-old, might not work as intended.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
Of course, I get it, the bedtime routine of a baby is never only a bedtime routine of the baby. Us adults have to take care of them when they start crying in the middle of the night. If we have to go to work in the morning, it’s all the worse, too. That’s why you might be looking for a shortcut for one of your responsibilities.
If giving melatonin to your child is one of these shortcuts and if you’re wondering whether it’s safe, I can tell you that there is no research indicating that it’s not safe. However, there is no research indicating that it’s safe in the long term, either. Therefore, there are certain aspects you have to consider (whether all by yourself or by consulting an expert) before deciding to give your kid melatonin – just to make sure your responsibilities and the way you are trying to handle them don’t come back multiplied later on and possibly haunt you.
Of course, seeing an expert might not be a possibility at the time you are faced with this issue. In that case, you need to heed these risks:
- Long-term effects: If you start giving melatonin to a kid at such an early age even for short-term use, you might be risking many long-term effects – I am saying “might” because there is no research. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers meds that contain melatonin just as dietary supplements, meaning that there is no need or ground for proper medical research on the topic. However, as I said above, melatonin is a hormone, and a consistent intake of it would be equal to hormone therapy without the supervision of a medical expert. It might lead to unforeseen consequences in the long-term as the hormone in question doesn’t only regulate sleep habits, but it also affects other vital functions and phases like puberty.
- Dependency: Use of melatonin at such an early age will later create a dependency as a result of which your kid, who’s now gotten bigger and started breaking your vases, will not be able to ease into the wonderland of dreams without a sleep aid. That’s especially the case if it unwittingly turns into long-term use.
- Side effects of melatonin: If you didn’t seek advice from a pediatric expert to help with your child’s sleep, you might get the dosing wrong, and it will surely result in certain side effects including excessive drowsiness, diarrhea, nausea, and vivid dreams.
- It might conceal other problems: You might give your baby melatonin and they may have a peaceful sleep afterwards, but it doesn’t mean that their sleep problems are now solved. There might be other causes behind their discomfort. Therefore, you should take the kid/baby to a pediatrician or sleep specialist at your earliest convenience so that, if there’s any underlying cause behind their sleep problems, it can be dealt with.
There can also be times when the use of melatonin supplements is necessary. Let’s see below what these situations are.
When Is the Use of Melatonin on Children Considered Recommended/Necessary?
Using melatonin on healthy children albeit in low doses and inconsistently is not recommended since there are better ways to deal with their sleep problems – I will cover what these better ways are later. Nonetheless, there are some cases when melatonin’s sedative effects are needed.
Hopefully, there is enough research on it unlike what I have covered so far, and the research shows that children with chronic insomnia, ADHD, or autism all benefit immensely from melatonin supplements.
- Chronic insomnia: Insomnia is observed in children as a considerably prolonged sleep onset phase, and sometimes you might see this disorder referred to as “chronic sleep onset insomnia”. Melatonin may work for reducing the prolonged sleep onset and thus increasing the actual sleep time. For melatonin to work better on children with chronic sleep onset insomnia, experts recommend it be given in the afternoon. Be warned, however, that giving your children melatonin in the afternoon will result in sleepiness for the rest of the day until they are allowed to put their heads on the pillow.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): I know ADHD can only be diagnosed in children between the ages of 4 and 12, so if you are here only for 1-year-olds, you can be at ease, but I will inform you of it just to be thorough. Research shows that 70% of children who have ADHD suffer from sleep problems and disorders and most of them have difficulty falling into a circadian rhythm. Also, a fair number of them fail to pass through the different stages of sleep in a consistent manner, and as a result, they show signs of sleepiness during the day. Although melatonin does not affect other aspects of ADHD, it can at least put their sleep in order, reducing disruptions and inconsistencies, and granting them a more relaxing sleep time.
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Detecting a case of autism spectrum disorder can happen even before the kid hits the threshold of 18 months, and symptoms of autism include a prolonged period of sleep onset accompanied by waking up uncharacteristically in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Moreover, many children with ASD have low levels of melatonin hormone in comparison to those who don’t have ASD. That’s why experts recommend giving children with ASD melatonin. It will prevent irregular wakeups and ease them into sleep. That’s not all, either – earlier, I mentioned how melatonin also regulates puberty-related issues. Research shows that autistic children who have been given melatonin have less problems socializing and communicating than those who haven’t been given melatonin. So, in the case of autism, parents might even get more than they have signed up for by giving their child melatonin.
How to Make Sure Your Child Has a Healthy Sleep Routine Without Melatonin
Just forget about children’s sleep for a moment and think about sleep rather generally. We all need sleep, right? Without a healthy sleeping routine, our lives might turn into a mess, we might gain weight, or we might end up inefficient in both our social and professional lives. Lack of enough sleep can ruin an otherwise perfect day for us. It’s so important that it can even be considered as an act of health care that makes us tick correctly.
Therefore, the sleep training techniques I am going to list below for a healthy sleep routine is not something you should only apply to your children but also to yourself.
- Set a regular bedtime: Even when you go see a dietician, this is probably one of the first pieces of advice you are going to hear along with the one that urges you to drink enough water. The constant repetition of these two over-chewed pieces of advice might have worn you off, and I can totally empathize with you on that, but there are also no better orders anyone can ever give: drink enough water and have a regular bedtime. Think of it as a way of disciplining your body and thus disciplining your mind. As your body falls into the routine of going to bed and eventually sleep at the same time everyday, your mind will have more rest and more ease. If you instill the habit of a healthy sleep schedule on the child’s body and mind at such an early age, it’s all the better because they won’t have difficulty wading their way through later when they become adolescents and adults.
- Turn off electronic devices: Yes, our phones, tablets, computers, TV sets, or even the blinking lights of our ADSL device have a way of reminding us of our responsibilities. The disruptive capacity of blinking or flashing lights aside, the screens of devices like phones, tablets, and computers produce something called “blue light”, a sort of light that reduces the melatonin levels of whoever’s exposed to it. If there’s any such device near a baby who’s trying to sleep, or even if there are the reflected lights of an action movie that is on your TV seeping through under the door and into the baby’s room, they might have trouble falling asleep. Under the light of this information, it’s also wise not to let the kids watch something from a tablet or phone right before their sleep time and to minimize their screen time overall. And, yes, blue light has the same effects on the melatonin levels of adults as well.
- Diagnose what other reasons might be preventing your child’s sleep: Life is difficult, so when you want to go to bed, you really only want to go bed and nowhere else, and sometimes you go to bed even though you know you’ll have to get up half an hour later to go to the loo or to the kitchen to have a glass of water. That inevitably causes a disruption, and the disruption gets even worse when you have turned on some lights during your detours. It’s more or less the same with babies and kids. Might they have some needs before sleep? What might those be? Diagnosing and addressing these needs before bedtime will help with both yours and your child’s sleep. For example, your child might have a problem with their mattress. In that case, choosing the right mattress for them can be the answer to your problems.
- Manage the sleep schedule: Sometimes, I kind of understand why us adults both envy and get irritated by the concept of being a baby. It’s not only because we didn’t turn out to be the people we imagined we would be but also because babies don’t have any duties or burdens, so they can spend their lives sleeping. However, a baby or kid sleeping too much in the daytime when we are dealing with our jobs and whatnot is not good for the nighttime. Managing the naps they take during the day by consulting a pediatrician will help you establish a healthier routine, and they will be more likely to fall asleep when you expect them to do so.
Conclusion: Can You Give a 1-Year-Old Melatonin?
The simple answer to the question is yes but only with good reason, and despite the lack of research on the subject matter, I can say that it’s safe so long as you get the dosing right and you don’t make it into a habit that might affect your child in the long-term. However, unless you really have to give the supplement immediately, it’s advisable to consult with a pediatrician or sleep specialist before you do it and to try to implement the sleep-training techniques I recommended above for better sleep hygiene.