Newborn melatonin: does it really work?

January 16, 2024

Increasingly, one sees or hears melatonin advertised as a specific remedy for sleep disorders.

Since children, especially the newly born, keep their parents awake, one might be led to believe that administering newborn melatonin is an effective and, above all, natural remedy.

Is this the case? But what exactly is melatonin, and what is it used for in children? Above all, does it make sense or is it harmful?

These and other important questions we want to answer in this article.

Melatonin: what is it?

Let’s start by understanding what we are talking about.

Melatonin is a substance that the human body secretes autonomously, and which serves precisely to regulate the so-called circadian rhythms, that is, the rhythms that in turn regulate sleep.

It became famous, and perhaps even fashionable, because people began to use it massively precisely to counteract the effects of jet lag, that is, the displacement of wakefulness due to very long plane flights.
That’s why later on, by the same principle, people switched to using it for sleep as well.

So we can immediately notice two important things that should not be underestimated, and they are related.
First, melatonin is already produced by the human body, so even babies are capable of it (although some put a limit of 3 months, meaning that before 3 months the baby would not be able to produce it)
Second, isn’t it dangerous to go and affect such a perfect mechanism as hormone regulation in toddlers, whose sleep is normally fractionated?

In short, can giving a newborn melatonin really be helpful or is it a dangerous shortcut?

What is the use of newborn melatonin?

The second question that is useful to answer is whether melatonin for infants has any real utility value.

If we look at the work of Dr. Rodriguez on the subject, director of the ‘Comprehensive Epilepsy Center-Sleep Center’ in New York, we learn that melatonin has its effect mainly on older people, even those over 70. The reason is that these people produce less of it.

There is also evidence that those who benefit from melatonin administration are young people who perform shift work and therefore cannot sleep regularly, while Rodriguez advises against its administration to younger people.

However, the topic cannot be dismissed in this way, because the positive effects of the substance are there, which is why a pediatric conference was held in Florence in 2016 to study the effects and relationships between melatonin and infants.
For example, in newborn melatonin can serve in cases of preterm birth, and it is successfully used in cases of oxidative stress or asphyxia.
In addition, giving newborn melatonin seems to improve sleep quality at night.
It is important to reassure new parents by also saying that no major side effects in children have been found in these studies.

What are the side effects of newborn melatonin?

Speaking of side effects, several studies have confirmed the paucity of the effects themselves, even in adults.
However, and this is precisely why many physicians urge caution about administration, long-term studies are lacking.

In the last paragraph we will see how there are particular syndromes and disease states in which melatonin administration is useful, but abusing it or using it only to make the baby (and parent) sleep better is an attitude on which not all pediatricians agree.

When can melatonin be given to infants?

Let us specify at this point that newborn melatonin should not be demonized, but that it can be considered a valuable aid where real problems of falling asleep, early awakening, and disturbed sleep exist.

Remember that sleep regressions are normal and physiological, and intervening with melatonin will not help you get through this phase better.

In fact, in these cases, the whole family is affected, so there is no harm in contacting your pediatrician about this.
Melatonin can be given through a dietary supplement or formula feeding no earlier than 5 months of age.

Be careful, however, because the administration of this substance alone is not enough, especially if the baby has difficulty managing the time of falling asleep.

For example, if the baby never wants to go to sleep or the baby does not sleep unless he is in the big bed, perhaps the problem is not his circadian rhythm, but his habits.

What can be done in these cases then is to establish a good routine, so that the baby slowly gets used to having regular schedules, sleeping in his crib, or performing co-sleeping depending on the parents’ decision, not getting up during the night, and so on.

What the science says about newborn melatonin

The key thing to understand is that at present there are not very many studies on the subject, and those that have been conducted have involved children with disorders on whom melatonin has brought benefits.

For example, these have been children who are blind (melatonin production is activated when switching from light to dark), those with sleep disorders, or those with neurological problems such as epilepsy or attention disorder. In these cases then science agrees in suggesting its use.

Even in cases where the child needs to be sedated because he or she has to undergo invasive examinations, melatonin helps to sedate the child.

Instead, if the sleep problem can be approached in a more integrated way, melatonin may help in the short term, while it would be better to avoid it in the long run, since at present any adverse effects on the development of the child and adolescent entering the puberty stage are not yet known.

Best to discuss this with the pediatrician.

What we at Parentalife think

We at Parentalife think that melatonin could be a good solution for situations where sleep disorders are disrupting the family wellness and for other uses that are currently discovered (but they still need confirmation). In all other cases, where melatonin could be avoided in favor of different solutions, it should be avoided.

Melatonin, as already mentioned in this article, cannot be given for a long period, and more importantly, there are not enough studies showing its safety and effectiveness on children.

If your child is not sleeping and you do not know what to do, we have made a path that will help you establish good sleep habits, the path is called “MAMISLEEP

SOURCES

Verteramo R, Pierdomenico M, Greco P, Milano C. The Role of Melatonin in Pregnancy and the Health Benefits for the Newborn. Biomedicines. 2022 Dec 14;10(12):3252. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines10123252. PMID: 36552008; PMCID: PMC9775355.