A lot of parents are using a secret weapon to get their kids to quickly fall asleep every night. It's melatonin supplements. But doctors warn that the short-term fix can damage kids' health long-term. Melatonin is a hormone we produce naturally, which helps regulate our sleep cycle. Insomniacs and jet-lagged travelers have taken melatonin for years to help them sleep. But recently there's been a surge in companies rolling out melatonin for kids, like tablets and drops in kid-friendly flavors like grape and fruit punch.
Studies show it's effective and reduces the amount of time it takes for kids to fall asleep. Research also shows that taking melatonin increases the duration of sleep in kids with mental challenges, autism, and psychiatric disorders. It works so well, parents have nicknamed the supplements "magic pills" because they take the stress out of getting kids to bed.
But there's a big problem: there's no long-term research on how melatonin affects kids. And doctors say it could negatively interact with other hormones in a kid's body, potentially stunting their growth and causing fertility issues. Plus melatonin has side effects, ranging from dizziness and headaches to abdominal pain, anxiety, irritability, and depression.
So parents, ditch the melatonin supplements. Instead, experts say the healthiest way to get your kid to fall asleep is to create a good routine. That means no electronics, like iPads or computers, an hour before bed. Studies show the blue light they emit disrupts the release of our natural melatonin. And put your child to bed at the same time every night, even weekends. That will wire their body to fall asleep at that time, all the time.