Hope for Children with Insomnia

Is there anything worse than a child who can’t
get to sleep? Okay, maybe a relentlessly crying kid whose having a temper
tantrum in public. But for parents of children
with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who can’t fall asleep
easily, there could be a new solution: melatonin.

A new study published recently
analyzed reams of data on the efficacy and safety of melatonin for treating
insomnia in children with ADHD and the authors indicate it can be a safe and
helpful way to improve the falling-asleep process for these young insomniacs. Here
is what they found:

  • Melatonin
    is a hormone your body produces to help it regulate
    your sleep-wake cycles; it usually starts pumping out of your pineal gland
    after it has become dark outside and your body prepares for bedtime. When melatonin
    levels in the blood rise, you begin to feel less alert and sleep becomes more
  • Children with
    usually have trouble falling asleep, which can have tremendous consequences to both their health and
    family life
    . Less sleep means a less-than-optimal refreshment of the brain
    and body during the night.
  • Giving 3 to 6 mg of melatonin within a few
    hours of bedtime has been shown to help kids with ADHD overcome some of their
    insomnia and improve their sleep. “Kids” in most cases reviewed in the study
    meant 6 to 14 years of age.

But hold on: There were several things about this
study that would make me not just jump on the bandwagon to try Melatonin in

  • Melatonin is a
    hormone, most kids produce plenty of Melatonin, it just might not be at the
    time of day when parents want them to go to sleep.
  • We have no idea
    what Melatonin will do to kids over the long term.
  • A dosage of
    3-6mg is between 3 and 6 times the dose that is needed in adults – could this
    be an over dosage?

While this research is very
important in our understanding of ADHD and sleep,
I would not consider placing a child on Melatonin without working
with both a sleep specialist and the child’s pediatrician.
There’s a lot to be said for
instilling good sleep
hygiene habits
in your kids early on. They should be adhering to a
pretty strict routine every night that has them:

  • Performing the same bedtime routine every night (winding down, getting ready for bed, brushing
    teeth, being read to or reading on their own, etc.).
  • Going to bed at the same time 7 days a week.
  • Avoiding stimulants within (at least!) an hour of bedtime. This includes
    electronics and digital media like the television, computer, and cell phone.

If your kids don’t currently
keep a regular bedtime routine, start there. The best prescription for a good
night’s sleep could be in your children’s habits—regardless of any other
condition like ADHD. Besides, who wants their children to have trouble sleeping
before they even reach the throes of those oft sleep-deprived teen years? They
need all the sleep they can get.

Sweet Dreams,  

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

Follow me on Twitter:   http://twitter.com/thesleepdoctor

3 thoughts on “Hope for Children with Insomnia

  1. I have a child who is almost 5 years old and goes to sleep well but still wakes 2-8 times per night. We have tried everything from reward to scolding to giving medication without success. We have always had her in her own bed and have strict bedtime with the same routines. What can we do next??

  2. Misty,
    In these types of cases I often will consider a sleep study to see if there may be something else going on. Have you considered this option?
    Dr. B

  3. We noticed a dramatic change in our two-year-old daughters sleep schedule during an experiment in which we turned off all artificial light after sundown. I’ve written about the experience here: http://jdmoyer.com/2010/03/04/sleep-experiment-a-month-with-no-artificial-light/
    Artificial (esp. blue) light blocks melatonin production — for most kids (and adults) melatonin supplementation probably isn’t necessary.
    Misty — it might be worth a try — it was fun to go a month with only candles. Good luck and I hope things get better.

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