Melatonin - The Magic Pill to better times?
I have seen a recent rise in the discussions around supplementing children with melatonin to help improve their overall sleep presentation. Parents who struggle to achieve an easy and desired bedtime for their child, or are faced with frequent night wakes, often turn to melatonin supplements to help navigate these sleep issues. But I do wonder if parents know what melatonin is, and what negative consequences or positive improvements they can expect when supplementing their child.
What is Melatonin?
Let’s get right down to basics. In simple terms, melatonin is our sleeping neurotransmitter. It is responsible for supporting the process of falling asleep and staying asleep. It plays an important part in sleep, by helping regulate the circadian rhythm and the cycles of sleep and wakefulness. Melatonin is converted from serotonin in the pineal gland of the body, and once released in to the blood stream, it travels to all parts of our body.
Melatonin levels vary in 24 hour cycles; they drop to their lowest point during the day to encourage wakefulness and alertness, and typically start to rise about 2 hours before you go to sleep, preparing the body and mind for sleep, by making us feel relaxed and calm. The levels then rise in the evening reaching its highest point in the late evening, supporting sleep for the duration of the night sleep window. The melatonin levels start to then ease off in the early hours of the morning, in preparation for waking, ready to start the day.
The production of melatonin is completely dependent on darkness, meaning that it is only produced in the dark at night time, and its production is reduced by certain levels and hues of light. Exposure to wave lengths of 460-480nm (predominantly blue light) suppresses melatonin production and this can lead to issues with falling asleep and staying asleep.
Melatonin in Babies and Children
Babies begin to receive melatonin in utero from the transfer of maternal melatonin through the placenta during pregnancy, and continue to retain levels of melatonin once born.