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Encouraging Healthier Sleep Behaviour in Small Children

Q: “What is the current thinking regarding melatonin or other natural/herbal sleep remedies for small children? My 3.5-year-old is a terror when tired and often wired at bedtime. I can’t figure out how to get him to sleep more!”

A: Melatonin is a hormone supplement, most commonly used in adults for primary treatment of casual insomnia and jet lag correction. Melatonin does not appear to improve “sleep efficiency,” which is measured by the percentage of time that a person actually spends sleeping during the time set aside for sleeping. Although some people may say that melatonin helps them to sleep better, science does not support this claim. Additionally, whatever help Melatonin is likely to provide is seen in older adults, not in children.

For these reasons, it is best to avoid giving melatonin or other herbal sleep remedies to your child. There is no scientific proof that these supplements work in small children, and the best thing you can do for your child is to help him develop healthy sleep habits the natural way. Start with the following simple steps to encourage healthier sleep behavior:

  • Reduce the use of all stimulants such as TV, computers, games, or anything else that may excite your child at least two hours before bed.
  • Encourage healthy “winding down” activities with your child such as reading quietly together, or you reading to him to help him relax.
  • Make adjustments to your child’s diet – if he’s eating too many foods high in sugar or caffeine, cut them out of his diet and replace with healthier alternatives.
  • If you find that these approaches do not work, speak to your pediatrician about a safe sedative prescription such as Triclofos or Pedicoloryl.

Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored content from Bumrungrad International Hospital, originally part of the bi-monthly Ask a Doctor column. It is solely intended as general information that may be useful for parents. 

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