Nobody ever said parenting was easy. The challenges that come with raising a child are difficult yet manageable to some parents, and downright unbearable to others. One of these challenges — getting a child to sleep — can be so unbearable that a number of parents have turned to melatonin drugs to help them overcome it. What brings restful nights to these parents may negatively affect these children in the long run, however.
Such was the warning issued by UK experts disturbed by the growing number of children with sleep disorders. The past decade has seen an alarming number of children, 14 and younger, being admitted into hospitals to help them deal with these sleep issues, reported the DailyMail.co.uk. Melatonin drugs are normally prescribed to insomnia sufferers over the age of 55, yet it seems there are pediatricians who freely recommend them to parents looking for “perfect” children.
That was the word used by sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley, who first became aware of these cases after general practitioners and nurses brought it to his attention during a lecture. “Most paediatricians know little about sleep or melatonin. For non-autistic children it is a fashionable treatment for parents wanting ‘perfect’ children,” Stanley told TheGuardian.com. “Unless a child has a diagnosed condition such as autism that has been scientifically proven to be helped by melatonin, there is no medical rationale for a child to be given it.”
Vicki Dawson, founder of the Children’s Sleep Charity, concurred with Stanley. “Sometimes there is a place for [melatonin]. We work closely with paediatricians and there are times when we will say we think it is helpful but only for short periods of time. My concern is some children are on it as a long-term solution. I have worked with kids on it six or seven years,” said Dawson.
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According to Dr. Paul Gringras, sleep medicine unit head at Evelina London Children’s hospital, children with developmental problems are often unable to produce adequate amounts of melatonin, hence why the synthetic version is usually prescribed to them. However, melatonin drugs have numerous side effects. Short-term side effects can include dizziness, nausea, and headaches, while long-term side effects can include hormonal imbalances.
In lieu of prescribing children sleeping drugs to help rest better, experts have recommended behavioral programs. That’s what Dawson aims to do with her organization. Dawson acknowledged that parents tend to use melatonin drugs to put their children down for the night due to a lack of such programs. “One of our aims is to lower melatonin prescription levels. For example, in Doncaster children are now not prescribed melatonin until they have been through behavioural approaches to sleep,” Dawson explained.
If you’re the parent of a child who just can’t sleep properly, there are many ways to make your child fall asleep without the use of drugs. These include:
Establishing a predictable bedtime routine, even on the weekends.
Sleeping in complete darkness. If your child is scared of the dark, then you can place a nightlight in the hallway.
Turning off all electronic devices an hour before bed.
Avoiding caffeinated or sugary foods or drinks in the evening. Instead, go for a combination of proteins or carbs like oatmeal with milk or peanut butter on toast.
Allergens can keep your child up by causing itching, congestion, or even overheating. “Have your child tested for allergies if you suspect this to be the case, and put him to bed in breathable, low-allergen organic cotton pyjamas and sheets,” noted TodaysParent.com.
All in all, it’s better to use any of these methods rather than potentially harmful drugs just to make a child sleep.
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