3 Ways to Help Regulate Melatonin in Your Child
Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces to help control your sleep-wake cycles. Your internal clock helps your body to determine how much melatonin to produce. The amount of light you are exposed to each day also plays a role in the regulation of this hormone. When you are exposed to darkness, your body produces more melatonin and helps to prepare for sleep. When you are exposed to light, your body produces less melatonin and helps to prepare for being awake.
Should your child take melatonin if they can’t sleep?
Melatonin is commonly prescribed in children with neurodevelopmental disorders (such as cerebral palsy, autism, and Down Syndrome) that have trouble falling and staying asleep.
Healthy children most likely don’t need a melatonin supplement to help them fall asleep. Studies conducted so far suggest that melatonin is safe for a short periods of time, however it’s important to note that these studies have been small in scale. The safety and effectiveness of long term use is unknown at this time. It’s important that families try to make modifications to their child’s sleep hygiene before using medications.
Did you know? Cherries are naturally high in melatonin. They make a great after dinner snack (especially frozen cherries, because they can also help to curb your sweet tooth).
How can I help to regulate my child’s production of melatonin?
- LIMIT THE USE OF ELECTRONICS. Avoid electronics at least 1 hour before bedtime. Introduce quiet activities (such as games, puzzles, colouring or sticker books). The blue light emitted from electronics such as TVs and hand held devices can limit the body’s production of melatonin. This is a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one with your child. You can also use this time have your older child help with preparing for the next day by selecting clothing or other items they might need.
- ADDRESS HOUSEHOLD LIGHTING. It’s important that your child’s sleep space be calm, cool, dark and quiet. Ensure that their bedroom has window coverings that can block out natural and artificial light sources that may be preventing them from initiating sleep or causing them to wake up too early in the morning. Also try to avoid the use of nightlights as they may have a similar impact on your child’s sleep. Try dimming the lights in your house 15 to 30 minutes before starting the bedtime routine to help signal that it’s time for bed.
- TAKE A LOOK AT THE DAILY SCHEDULE. Too many extra-curricular activities push mealtime and bedtime later and later. The same can be true for young children if daytime activities and programs interfere with a child’s napping schedule. Be consistent about the timing of bedtime and wake up times. This means selecting activities that don’t consistently interfere with your child’s individual sleep needs. From time to time you will need to re-evaluate your child’s individual sleep needs. This is especially true for children that are still napping. (link to National Sleep Foundations Sleep Guidelines).
- Cut out electronic use at least 1 hour prior to bedtime.
- Dim the lights before and during bedtime.
- Consistency is key. Maintain a set bedtime and awake time.