Melatonin for children’s insomnia

Melatonin for children’s insomnia

If a child does not sleep, the cause must necessarily be investigated. Melatonin is a valuable aid but in case it is necessary to integrate the natural amount produced by the human body. Sleep is a complex system and must be treated as such.


  • Sleep in early childhood
  • Melatonin as a supplement
  • What is melatonin used for in children
  • From what age can melatonin be given to children
  • How much melatonin can you give to children
  • How long does the effect of melatonin last?
  • Benefits of melatonin in children
  • Contraindications of melatonin in children
  • Side effects of melatonin in children
  • Meaning of sleep in children


Sleep in early childhood

The first step is always to understand why a baby doesn’t sleep . As a rule, up to three years of age, children do not have the same sleep-wake cycle as adults.


In fact, their sleep is not linked to the dark-light alternation because they have not yet finished the development of the epiphysis, the gland responsible for releasing melatonin  (and this already partially answers the question about the effectiveness of melatonin in pediatric insomnia). So in this age group it is almost normal for them to have irregular sleep , with frequent awakenings.


Sometimes exasperated parents go so far as to tell their young children that they never “sleep”, when in reality they simply alternate between REM and NREM sleep very quickly , so they have frequent awakenings but also frequent falls asleep. Unfortunately they do not coincide with the parents’ sleep!

Melatonin as a supplement

Melatonin can be a valuable aid against insomnia in the  auditory but also in children if a low release of the hormone by the epiphysis has been ascertained, such that reintegration is necessary to help regulate sleep. It must always be taken under medical supervision , in the right quantities indicated and for the time strictly necessary.


Even if it is a natural hormone , melatonin can present side effects such as possible sleepiness in the next day (but also the lack of sleep generates daytime sleepiness), restlessness, tachycardia.


Clinical studies in this sense have yet to be completed to have a certain response on its extensive use in the pediatric field and certainly a simple sleep education , following some  basic rules / habits to guide falling asleep , can help to trigger the right process.


What is melatonin used for in children

Melatonin may be useful for children with attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD). Some studies conducted on children between 6 and 12 years of age have shown how the integration of a dosage of melatonin of 5 mg / day has accelerated the sleep times of hyperactive children and prolonged their sleep by about 40 minutes.


Melatonin can also be useful in blind people , who therefore have difficulty in releasing the neuro-hormone based on the light-dark cycle. In 2016 a Consensus Conference was organized in Florence on the evolution of melatonin applications in the neonatal and pediatric fields, with an in-depth study on the role of this neurohormone in sleep disorders secondary to autism , ADHD and neurocognitive disabilities. Another interesting use of melatonin is to calm children in the diagnostic setting during MRI, the EEG for example.


From what age can melatonin be given to children

Pediatric use of melatonin should be moderate, prescribed and monitored by the physician . There is use in infants to reduce oxidative stress due to sepsis, asphyxia, or surgical stress. Administration via breast milk demonstrated a noticeable improvement in sleep in both. 


How much melatonin can you give to children

Dosage varies according to age :

  • in infants the dose is between 0.5 and 5 mg, with a mean of 2.1 ± 1.0 mg;
  • in children aged 2 or 3 to 10 years it varies between 1 and 10 mg, with a mean of 3.5 ± 1.5 mg,
  • while in adolescents dosages between 2 and 12 mg are used, with an average of 5.3 ± 2.4 mg.

The most common starting dose is 3 mg and is used in 30% of infants, 51% of children and 44% of adolescents. 


How long does the effect of melatonin last?

Melatonin helps manage sleep, excessive reactions to external inputs. Its use involves an early administration from 3 to 5 hours before falling asleep to trigger the physiological processes of relaxation. 


It is not a sleeping pill , so talking about the duration of the effect can actually be improper, as it acts as a carrier.


Benefits of melatonin in children

The benefits of melatonin in children but also in adults are different. This molecule intervenes in the development of the fetus with a direct effect on the placenta, in the development of neurons and glia . It affects cognitive functions, reduces neurodegenerative processes, helps children with epilepsy, relieves migraines.


Contraindications of melatonin in children

No contraindications have been identified in the intake of melatonin in children, but there must not be any form of “do-it-yourself” administration , but always only under medical supervision. Except in special cases, for sleep disorders in childhood it is better to investigate the nature of the problem and address it with more age-compatible methods.


  • Children of about 2 years old who struggle to sleep alone because they have been used to sharing a bed with their parents
  • 3-year-old children who start watching TV and are sometimes impressed by programs that are too “violent” for their tender age
  • Older children around the age of 10 who begin to feel forms of stress can be treated with other remedies and supplements that help relax and facilitate sleep, such as lemon balm , passion flower , chamomile , even a few drops for sleep.


Side effects of melatonin in children

Recent studies have shown that there are no side effects due to the administration of melatonin in children. It is in fact a natural hormone, related to serotonin by structure, and its production is regulated by the light / dark circadian rhythms . It has many applications and even the family pediatrician uses it as a remedy for sleep disorders.


Meaning of sleep in children

For a child, sleep takes on a different value than the actual function of sleep.

They do not interpret it as a physical and mental need linked to rest, but as a moment of detachment , separation from parents, from play, from their activities.


Consequently, if they do not collapse from fatigue, as would be natural, it is necessary to investigate thoroughly before resorting to any type of drug, even if we are talking about simple melatonin. 


Falling asleep is an act of trust : we all fall asleep more easily if we are calm, if we are in a safe and secure environment, if we do not have “ghosts” waiting for us the next day. In children this need is amplified and can hardly be solved with a melatonin tablet.

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