Your child can’t sleep?

When my daughter was diagnosed with not one, but two autoimmune disorders, it impacted everything in her life. From daily headaches and stomach pains to extreme fatigue and foggy brain, Kate grew accustomed to dealing with not feeling well. She always had trouble sleeping since being diagnosed, but in the last year in particular, things became worse. During the summer, she couldn’t sleep at all. The more she tried, the more anxious she got and the less chance she had to sleep. Her days and nights became confused and her quality of life went downhill fast. When school reopened, it became apparent the first week that something had to be done.

I called her endocrinologist to discuss any possible sleeping aids that might help her. I had never before wanted to put her on any more medications than she was already on — especially sleeping pills — but her lack of sleep had become unbearable, I began to consider it.

Her doctor suggested melatonin. Melatonin? I had heard a lot about it in the past couple of years but didn’t know much about it.

I thanked him, hung up, and embarked on a three-hour Google search. And then I went across the street and bought her a bottle in the pharmacy. Hands-down, it was the best thing I’ve done to help improve her overall health.

With melatonin, the first mistake that people make is thinking that is a sleeping pill. It is not. It is a natural hormone produced by the body, which helps regulate the sleep and wake cycles. In my daughter’s case, she didn’t have enough to sustain her and her sleeping cycles were thrown out of whack. Once she started taking it, it immediately began helping her body do what it was naturally supposed to at night — calm down and sleep.

We all know how vital sleep is for all of us. Adequate amounts of sleep are essential for children (and in particular for children with health issues) because sleep affects us in every way, from eating and thinking to repairing cells and fighting off infection.

Dr. Lawrence Rosen, a pediatrician, nationally recognized expert in pediatric integrative medicine, and co-author of “Treatment Alternatives for Children,” explains how melatonin helps.

“There are receptors in the brain for melatonin that regulate brain chemicals related to anxiety and calming,” he explains. Dr. Rosen, who is also the founder of the Whole Child Center in Oradell, NJ, recommends melatonin to his pediatric patients. “Melatonin can be a useful sleep or anxiety aid for children (typically 3 years old or older). I encourage an integrative approach to sleep and anxiety issues, including relaxation strategies like yoga or guided imagery. But if those strategies are not successful, a small dose of melatonin may be helpful.”

Dr. Rosen recommends starting at 0.5 mg. and says even a very small dose can be effective. My daughter takes 1 mg. each night.

Robin Gorman Newman, founder of finds melatonin very useful in her son’s sleeping schedule.

“My 9-year-old son has always been an active kid, and it’s hard for him to wind down. He fights going to sleep, so melatonin was suggested to us. He takes 2 mg. of the GNC brand dissolvable pills a half hour before bedtime. He initially took 1 mg., but as he’s grown, the doctor upped the dose.”

There is some debate about the possible side effects, such as drowsiness, headaches, abdominal pain, dizziness, and strange dreams. If a child experiences any of these symptoms, melatonin might not be right for him. Bear in mind, however, that those side effects usually occur when people take too much or aren’t under a doctor’s care.

For my daughter, melatonin has been a lifesaver. Ever since the day she started taking it, she has been able to sleep, which is incredible given her history. If your child has been affected by a sustained lack of sleep or inability to get to sleep, a complete check-up is necessary. Then, once health conditions have been ruled out or identified — and if your child is still struggling to get the sleep he needs to feel healthy — you might want to discuss melatonin with your pediatrician.

Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Find her on Facebook and Twitter @DanniSullWriter, or on her blog, Just Write Mom.