Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

kids and melatonin

Ask the Pediatrician: Can kids take melatonin to help with sleep?

Also, tips for avoiding a COVID/flu "twindemic."

Kids and melatonin

My child can’t sleep: Is it OK to use melatonin?

Great question. Sleep difficulties are common in our house, so I have a lot of empathy. Anyone can have an occasional bad night of sleep, but studies suggest that about 20% of kids routinely have trouble falling or staying asleep. Sleep problems can be stressful because poor sleep impacts learning, behavior and happiness. It can affect how other family members are sleeping, too. Chronically poor sleep can also affect health in other ways by contributing to obesity, elevated blood pressure and depression. Solving the sleep dilemma is important.

kids and melatonin

Sleep routines: The first step is creating a consistent sleep routine. This sleep routine can be whatever your family agrees to. Whether taking a bath or reading a story, the sleep routine is a signal that it’s time to wind down. The key is to do the same thing every night at the same time and build the habit.

Sleep environment: Creating a good sleep environment is also important. Dark shades in the summer, night lights and a good temperature all help. Kids will often come up with their own ideas about what will help them sleep. A major factor is: no distractions. This means screens, including phones, should be out of the room.

What if this does not work? What happens if you have created a sleep routine and good sleep environment but your child is still unable to fall asleep or stay asleep? I would recommend following up with a primary-care provider to discuss the problem. Sometimes a medical problem such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea can really affect quality of sleep.

[ More recent advice from Dr. Block: Ask the Pediatrician: When should kids get cellphones? ]

What about kids and melatonin? Melatonin is everywhere these days. Melatonin is naturally produced in the brain and it signals the body to go to sleep. In recent years melatonin in pill or gummy form has become readily available and is often marketed toward children. There may be certain situations where it’s helpful, but before jumping to melatonin here are a few facts:

  • Melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement, rather than a sleep aid, so it is not regulated by the FDA. Because of this, there is not much known about the effects of melatonin in children.
  • The current thinking is that melatonin can be helpful in certain short-term sleep situations such as helping kids adjust to time changes or getting back onto a sleep schedule after a disruption. Certain children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism may benefit from melatonin.
  • Melatonin comes in many different forms and dosages. I recommend talking to your pediatrician first to decide if, when and how much to use. If you do decide to try melatonin, it is important to give it about 60 minutes before the desired sleep time and to use the lowest dose.

In summary, short-term melatonin use seems to be relatively safe, but less is known about the effects of long-term use. More research is needed.

Tips for managing flu season amid COVID

In the last two years, discussion about influenza has taken a backseat to COVID-19. Now that kids are back in school and we are out and about more, we need to remember that influenza, the respiratory virus that causes the “flu,” is a concern. Influenza is transmitted by respiratory droplets and is very infectious, particularly in the first few days of the illness.

These days, it can be confusing because COVID-19 and influenza have some similar symptoms (and sometimes allergies do, too). The classic influenza symptoms include chills, headaches, body aches, sore throat, dry cough, stuffy or runny nose and vomiting. It might not be clear what infection your child has; keep your kids at home if they are experiencing symptoms.

Here is some good news: Anyone 6 months and older is eligible for the flu vaccine. The best time to have the vaccine is now, in October or November, so you’re protected for the entire flu season. If you are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine (or a booster) you can get both vaccinations at the same time. The flu vaccine has a few minor side effects including sore arm and occasionally fever or fatigue, but remember: The flu vaccine will not give you the flu.

More health in Seattle’s Child

Ask the Pediatrician: Why does my kid suddenly stink?

Ask the Pediatrician: Balancing kids’ independence and safety

About the Author

Susanna Block

Dr. Susanna Block, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and lives with her family in Queen Anne.