Children with ADHD are substantially more likely to have trouble falling asleep. In fact, up to half of those with an ADHD diagnosis have a comorbid sleep disorder like sleep apnea, chronic insomnia, or restless legs syndrome (RLS). If your child is one of the many individuals out there who struggle to get enough sleep, over-the-counter melatonin supplements are likely one of the first suggestions you'll come across. But is melatonin for ADHD kids safe? If your child can't tolerate melatonin, what are some safe alternatives?
In this article, we'll discuss whether melatonin is safe for kids and how to determine the appropriate melatonin dosage for your child. Then, we'll discuss melatonin alternatives that promote restful sleep.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
Melatonin is a hormone that naturally occurs in the body. Melatonin is considered a dietary supplement, which means that it is not regulated by the FDA. Although melatonin supplements are generally regarded as safe, not everyone responds to them the same way. Side effects can occur when taking melatonin. Understanding how to dose melatonin and choosing the right melatonin supplement can help. A recent health advisory issued by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine indicates that parents should:
- Talk with a professional before giving children melatonin.
- Opt for a melatonin supplement with a USP Verified Mark if they choose to give their children melatonin.
- Keep melatonin supplements out of the reach of children.
When you talk with your child's doctor about using melatonin, tell them about any other medications or supplements your child takes, as interactions can occur in some instances. For example, seizure medications or blood thinners. It is also relevant to note that allergic reactions can occur as a result of taking melatonin.
How Much Melatonin Can Kids Have?
Experts advise that you start with the lowest dose of melatonin for your child's sleep problems in any case. For insomnia symptoms in children, it is typically suggested that parents provide 0.5-mg of melatonin. It is important to consult with your child’s pediatrician for any new medications and for appropriate dosage.
In addition to starting at a low dose, it is recommended that melatonin is not used as a daily sleep aid. Like most over-the-counter supplements, melatonin is typically used for "here and there" sleep issues unless otherwise directed and shouldn't replace medical advice or treatment.
The effects of long-term melatonin use require further research at this time. Make sure to talk with your child's doctor about ongoing sleep issues so that they can determine the cause and recommend the most ideal form of treatment.
Melatonin Side Effects
If you give your child melatonin, it's important to keep potential side effects in mind. Not all kids experience side effects when taking melatonin, but if they do, it may be time to try another option.
Possible side effects of melatonin include:
- Daytime drowsiness or fatigue.
- Increased bedwetting.
- Agitation or irritability.
- Mood swings.
- GI distress.
Good sleep is crucial for health and well-being. If your child faces challenges related to falling or staying asleep, you might wonder what else you can do. Thankfully, there are ways to help kids get more sleep and fall asleep faster.
Melatonin Alternatives To Consider For Restful Sleep
Sleep hygiene is the first thing to check on when it comes to getting a good night's sleep. Outside of melatonin, there are various natural sleep remedies to try - many of which do not require over-the-counter supplements. Here are some healthy sleep habits and melatonin alternatives to start with.
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential to the body. Alongside other benefits, magnesium can aid sleep and promote feelings of calm. You can find magnesium supplements in many child-friendly forms, like flavored beverage mixes and gummies.
Over the Counter Sleep Medicine
Some children may respond better to over the counter (OTC) sleep medicine than melatonin. Before you give OTC sleep medicine to your child, talk with your doctor about the best option.
Herbal Sleep Remedies
Some children may benefit from the use of herbal remedies for sleep. Frequently used options include but aren’t limited to chamomile and passionflower. Often, these are consumed in the form of herbal tea.
Remember to tell your child’s doctor about any and every supplement they take, even if it is an herb or mineral.
Reducing screen time
A large body of research confirms the negative effects of blue light on sleep. Not only can blue light make it harder to fall asleep, but it can also interfere with one's ability to enter a state of deep sleep. Experts recommend that electronics are stowed away 30-60 minutes before bed. If your child uses electronics before bed right now, replace that part of their bedtime routine with another activity, such as reading.
Similarly, take electronic devices out of your child's room while they sleep. It isn't uncommon for kids with ADHD to get up throughout the night, but they should not turn to phones or laptops when they do. Other activities, like breathing exercises, are more appropriate for falling asleep and returning to sleep if needed. Discover the best apps to help children sleep.
Breathing exercises have extensive benefits. They're known to soothe physical and emotional symptoms of stress, relieve anxiety, and promote better sleep. There's a range of breathing exercises to try. For younger kids, stick to simple breathing exercises like the 5-5-5 breathing exercise. To use the 5-5-5 breathing exercise, breathe in for a total of five seconds, hold your breath for a total of five seconds, and release the breath slowly over five seconds.
Another option is progressive muscle relaxation. With progressive muscle relaxation, you tense and relax muscles slowly while breathing in and out. If your child is a visual learner, you may use a kid's breathing exercise video to help them understand how to use techniques like breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation for sleep.
Aromatherapy is another one of the most common natural sleep remedies you'll come across. Lavender essential oil can have a calming effect, and various studies show that it promotes better sleep. You may use straight lavender oil, but for some kids, lotions designed to aid sleep with lavender oil might be easier to administer.
Chamomile oil and other essential oils can have soothing qualities, too. However, lavender essential oil appears to be the best and most research-backed scent for sleep.
Other relaxing stimuli
Aromatherapy is just one way to help kids sleep via sensory input. Other relaxing stimuli (e.g., a foot rub, weighted blankets, or white noise) can also be advantageous for younger and older children alike. Weighted blankets and white noise machines are becoming increasingly popular and can be found online or at most large retail stores in person. Child-sized weighted blankets often cost around $30-60, while basic white noise machines are around $15-20.
Getting enough exercise
Getting enough exercise during the day can help with sleep problems. If your child does not get enough physical activity during the day and struggles to fall asleep or experiences poor sleep quality, this could be part of why. Physical activity has many benefits for kids with ADHD, and there are a ton of different active hobbies your child can try.
Mindfulness around evening snacks and drinks
Bedtime snacks aren't bad. However, it is important to time them correctly. If your child currently eats a snack right before bed, try to push snack time back a little bit earlier. See if this helps your child stay asleep. Similarly, if they use warm milk or chamomile tea to get to sleep, make sure your child consumes them soon enough that they will not need to wake up to use the restroom or wet the bed. Hunger can keep kids up, too, so be aware of this as well.
Many parents find it beneficial to opt for certain foods over others before bed. Examples of foods that can aid sleep include but aren't limited to whole grains, nuts and nut butter, dairy (or suitable non-dairy alternatives), and bananas.
Maintain a consistent bedtime routine
If your child has a sporadic sleep schedule, it might cause or worsen sleep problems. Rather than change it up, experts recommend that kids and adults fall asleep and wake up at around the same time daily to support healthy sleep. Similarly, ensure that your child's bed is in a quiet space with a cool room temperature.
Why Can't My Child Fall Asleep?
Sleep is critical for brain function and alertness. Not getting enough sleep may also worsen ADHD symptoms. However, for many parents, sleep feels like a helpless battle. Kids might struggle with sleep for several reasons, which is a large part of why it is so essential to see a medical provider about any continuous problems with sleep.
Reasons kids might struggle with sleep include but aren't limited to:
- Nightmares. Nightmares and night terrors may keep some children awake.
- Sleep disorders. A medical condition such as chronic insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome could be the cause of your child's sleep problems, especially if they're ongoing.
- Other disorders. At times, conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or depression lead to sleep issues in children and adults. Physical health conditions can also impact sleep.
- Medication side effects. Some medications, including central nervous system stimulants (which are frequently used for ADHD), may impede sleep in some cases. If this is the case, a prescriber might choose to change the timing of your child's medication or otherwise adjust their medication regimen.
Once the cause of your child's sleep problems is treated, you should see improvement in your child's sleep quality. Note that sleep aids or medications aren't the only remedies used for kids' sleep issues. Other interventions, such as behavioral therapy, can also be valuable in some cases, such as when anxiety plays a role in sleep.
Sleep issues are a common problem. For children and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD, they're even more prevalent. Research suggests that melatonin is generally safe when taken as directed on a short-term basis. However, overdose is possible in kids who take melatonin, and some experience side effects. There are safe alternatives to melatonin for child sleep problems, which include but aren't limited to reducing screen time, getting enough exercise during the day, and breathing exercises. Trying these alternatives may help your child fall asleep faster and get enough sleep. If children continue to struggle with sleep, it is vital to talk with a medical professional for individualized guidance.