Melatonin is a naturally occurring molecule spontaneously produced by our body. It is responsible for the so-called circadian rhythm, i.e. the sleep-wake rhythm that allows us to live a normal life cycle.
In adults it is often used to alleviate sleeping disorders. In children, especially small children, it can be useful in the presence of an altered sleep-wake rhythm.
When is useful to give melatonin to children?
In the first period of life, the physiological production of this hormone (produced by the epiphyseal gland) is very low and this is why some newborns “confuse the day with the night“.
Children can take melatonin from 3 years old, the time as of when endogenous production should be regularized.
Given that, the regularization of melatonin production is not the same in all children, melatonin can be helpful for children who have difficulty falling asleep since from 3 to 6 years, some will have a regular sleep-wake rhythm while others do not.
Despite a regular production of melatonin, the epiphysis not necessarily can produce as much melatonin to meet the needs of the organism, and therefore a restful and long sleep. When melatonin has a regular cycle but do not produce the right quantity, the child will manifest frequent nocturnal awakening. In this case, melatonin integration is recommended to help child to sleep soundly, avoiding the awakenings.
Sometimes the production of the hormone is perfectly regular in quantity and rhythm but the daily routine limits its production. Highly stressful events, irregular hours or persistent irritability can interfere with the production of melatonin, which therefore needs to be integrated from the outside.
Of course, in this case integration improves sleeping, but it is not a “magic wand” that solves the problem: the stressful situations that contribute to limiting the physiological production of melatonin necessarily must be resolved.
In general, it is very important to administrate melatonin because the growth hormone or GH is produced while sleeping. This hormone stimulates the body structures to grow (bones, muscles, and individual organs). The lack of sleep can raise child weakness (just as it does for adults) and limits the production of this hormone causing growth defects. It is for this reason that sleep disorders in children should be monitored and resolved.
Use of melatonin
There are some basic rules that maximize the effects of melatonin supplement.
First of all, it must be taken before going to sleep, so to mime its natural production, in a peaceful environment, free from noise that can interfere with falling sleep and sleep quality.
Melatonin is just a natural substance that helps the body to fall asleep. It is not a hypnotic drug.
The logic behind the administration of melatonin is that of inducing the organism to a certain regularity, which, in turn, leads to an abundant and regular endogenous production of the hormone. In some way, melatonin “accompanies” the organism to do what it is prepared for. For this reason it would be a mistake to think that melatonin supplements might completely replace itself the body.
We must also remember that melatonin does not always work out. Above all, it is not effective in the most severe cases of sleep disturbance when it is necessary the use of specific drugs.
Before giving melatonin to children, it is always better to consult the pediatrician, who will perform a clinical evaluation of the disorder and prescribe an appropriate therapy.