Melatonin effective and safe for children with insomnia

A study published in a respected pediatric journal (“Melatonin in children and adolescents with insomnia” Clin Pediatr (Phila) 2003 Jan-Feb; 42 (1): 51-8) found that melatonin is effective in improving sleep in children who suffer from insomnia. The melatonin was administered one hour before bedtime to children ranging in age from 2 to 15 years. Dosing was 1.4 mg for children between the ages of 2 and 6, 2 mg between 7 and 11 years old and 3 mg for older children.

Researchers looked at how quickly children fell asleep and how often they woke up during the night. Within one to two weeks of starting the treatment, more than 90% of the children in the study experienced at least partial improvements in their sleep and no side effects of any kind were reported. In addition, parents reported that their children were more attentive, less hyperactive, performed better in school, and had better moods after their sleep stabilized.

Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland found in the brain. It plays a major role in sleep and has often been described as the sleep hormone although it is also a powerful antioxidant and has other important functions. Results of this study indicate that a deficiency of melatonin is also likely to play a role in hyperactivity, attentiveness and moods.

In spite of the remarkable safety record of melatonin, it should be treated with respect because it is, after all, a hormone. As with other hormones, when a supplemental dose is taken, the body reacts by making less of the hormone. This can lead to shutting down the body’s capacity to make it and long-term dependence on supplementation.

Melatonin is made in the brain from the amino acid tryptophan after the tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP and then to serotonin. As a result, I feel that giving supplemental tryptophan or 5-HTP is a more natural approach that helps provide the brain with the “raw materials” it needs to produce its own melatonin. Other nutrients that play a role in producing melatonin include vitamin B-6 and SAMe.

Supplementing with one or more raw materials is often effective and does not lead to possible dependence. However, since the brain produces melatonin only at night, taking the raw materials may not help when the day-night (circadian) cycles are disordered. In these cases, short-term (1-2 weeks) use of melatonin may be indicated. Other approaches to help re-establish circadian rhythm include exposure to early morning sunlight and dimming the lights at night.

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