It seems to be a simple and harmless way to make life easier for parents: giving children melatonin gum to help them fall asleep faster. This topic is currently hotly debated after American actress Kirsten Bell revealed in an interview that she gives her seven- and nine-year-old daughters melatonin for teddy bears at night. “It hits them faster and they do a great job,” said the 42-year-old.
Videos have since appeared on TikTok and other social platforms of babies allegedly falling asleep faster thanks to their rubber melatonin bears. The trend appears to be emerging.
Online Supplements Containing Melatonin Are Available
Products specifically designed for babies are available online, which are said to help them sleep “naturally” thanks to the added melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It is produced in the brain, especially when it is dark.
There are melatonin medicines that are approved in Germany, but there are also nutritional supplements that contain melatonin and do not need to be sold in pharmacies. Since melatonin is an endogenous hormone and products are also sold in pharmacies, it can be given the impression that it is a gentle and harmless remedy that can be given to children as well.
Pediatrician: Melatonin is a drug – long-term effects have not yet been researched
But is sleep-inducing medication really harmless to children in everyday life? Mirja Quante is Senior Physician in the Department of Neonatology and Head of the Pediatric Sleep Laboratory at the University Hospital Tübingen. When asked about melatonin bears, she told FOCUS Online, “This is definitely not the right way to go.”
Melatonin is a wonderful drug in its own right and it is also the first choice in pediatrics for sleep because it has few undesirable effects and no significant effect on sleep itself, i.e. the structure of sleep.
That’s why we like melatonin, but not alone – it always includes sleep advice. We only use it for a short time because it is medicine and it will stay. And even if melatonin has few undesirable effects, we still don’t have long-term experience with it, especially in childhood. For example, there is evidence that melatonin may also affect our immune system. So I will be careful about that.”
Parents should check sleep hygiene before resorting to medication
Instead of giving children melatonin on their own, parents should first ask themselves some basic questions, Quante believes: “If I’m having trouble getting my kids to sleep at night, the first thing I should ask myself is: How is it actually? With Sleep hygiene?This means, for example:
- Do I have a reliable daily structure?
- What are children’s sleep needs?
- Does my child nap in the late afternoon and therefore not feel tired in the evening?
- Do I have a good routine, eg an evening ritual with always the same processes as reading a bedtime story? “
The expert explains that if families have very variable bedtimes that do not align with children’s sleep needs, there could certainly be sleep problems. “Sometimes there are medical images behind it. It would be fatal, for example, if the child had troubled sleep apnea, and then you just do self-medication to make the child sleep.”
First we get to the bottom of the causes of sleep problems
Sleep concerns should also be taken seriously and the affected child should be accompanied. It is always important to get to the cause of sleep problems and think about: Why does the child have trouble sleeping? Why don’t you sleep all night?
“It’s a very important developmental step for children to learn how to fall asleep on their own. Experiencing sleep is great, too,” Quante explains.
“Developing a good bedtime routine with children can be stressful. My impression is that some families shy away from this process and then go the easy route and resort to self-medication. So I think it’s dangerous.”
Tip: Establish processes and rituals, and do not use media in the evening
Instead, the sleeping state of the family should first be closely examined. Repetitive routines and rituals in the evening can make it easier for children to fall asleep. Likewise, waive media use in the evening hours. Because electronic devices can make it difficult to fall asleep, they should not be used in the evening if possible:
“Computer, tablet, smartphone – all of these devices emit blue light and this leads to the suppression of melatonin in the body. If parents make sure that these devices are not used two hours before bed, this is very beneficial. Not only is the blue light is blue, it is Content that excites children.
Reading out loud at night is a great way to sleep
It makes sense to play something with the children or to read a story. “Classic reading aloud in the evening — we’ve also been able to show this in studies — is still a great way to sleep,” Quanti says.
If you really can’t sleep, you should definitely seek professional advice instead of administering melatonin on your own, the doctor asserts. The first point of contact is always pediatricians, who can refer you to pediatric sleep labs in an emergency. Family counseling centers such as Profamilia also provide sleep counseling for families.