Thursday, June 03, 2010

Land of the Midnight Melatonin

MelatoninBy contributing writer Kim Christopher of The Mommy Machine

***

Summer is approaching, which means long stretches of daylight around these parts. Due to a good 19 hours of sunlight most June days, Alaskans look forward each year to fantastic gardens, late night baseball games, and the annual protestations from kids at bedtime, “But it’s not even dark out!”

Even in May I encountered difficulties with my twin toddlers, who up to this point have been pretty good sleepers. I’m now met with distrusting looks when I ask them to change into their pajamas. It’s clear to them that I’m trying to pull some kind of con, since the sun is still shining and the birds are singing, yet I’m asking them to brush their teeth and say their prayers.

I was mentioning my kids’ sleep resistance to a fellow mother of twins, who recommended trying peppermint melatonin. She uses it on her fraternal boys, and swears by it. A friend standing next to her nodded, and admitted that she, too, takes melatonin each night to help her sleep. I didn’t know what they were talking about. How can I have reached this far in life and never heard of melatonin supplements?

I must confess that I don’t like the word “melatonin.” Sounds too much like melanoma, if you ask me. Based on the women’s glowing reviews, however, I decided to look into the stuff a little further. Like any good mom, I contacted Dr. Google right away. . . .

Turns out that melatonin is indeed marketed as a natural sleep aid. But, really, who needs the actual melatonin? Just reading about it caused me to doze off as I slogged my way through everything I never wanted to know about receptors and circadian rhythms and terminal antioxidants. The few studies that have been conducted suggest that, when given temporarily, melatonin is successful and generally risk-free in helping the majority of subjects fall asleep. Melatonin is recommended mostly for children with ADHD and those with delayed neurological development. Does it matter that my children are just cranky?

Melatonin is a natural hormone found in the body; the pineal gland is triggered by darkness to produce melatonin, which helps humans to sleep well. Unfortunately for Alaskans, light—especially the kind of blue light that currently emanates from your computer screen—inhibits melatonin production. While I don’t allow my twins to fall asleep in front of a computer or TV monitor, they do receive too much light when they’re in bed . . . the Alaskan sun has a way of peeking through their curtains well into the evening hours. Maybe a boost in melatonin would help my children to rest easier.

I searched the vitamin aisle of my grocery store and found melatonin tablets, but not peppermint-flavored. There’s no way my kids can swallow a pill, especially one that tastes like cardboard; I suppose I could crush it and sprinkle it into their food, but that seems like a lot of work. Then I spied a liquid form in a small vial that looked exactly like the de-worming medicine I had to dribble on the skin of my cat. Do you think it would work to rub some melatonin between my children’s shoulder blades where they can’t reach to lick it off? I finally had to call my friend and ask her where in the heck she found chewable peppermint melatonin. Oh. In the health food section. Now I’m really confused. Aren’t all vitamins and supplements healthy? Why is there a vitamin aisle in the main part of the grocery story AND a separate shelf of vitamins in the health food aisle? Are those the special super-powerful organic vitamins that only vegans know about? No one can answer.

I bought a jar of peppermint melatonin for five bucks and change, and headed home with the thrill of hope in my heart. Before I tried them on my unsuspecting children, though, I thought it wise that I sample the melatonin first. I crunched down a pill—mmm, peppermint!—and settled into my bed a little earlier than usual, in case I unexpectedly fell into a deep sleep. A few hours later, I dozed off at my normal time. I slept fitfully, waking up several times throughout the night to check if I felt drowsier than normal. I couldn’t tell.

The next day, I googled “melatonin side effects.” Bad idea. I found a number of sites reporting that too much melatonin can cause headaches, nausea, depression, nightmares, irritability, and dizziness. Darn, no diarrhea. I don’t trust the information, though, because after they disrespect the melatonin, the sites try to sell a different herbal supplement that they’re sure will help with insomnia. Still, I’m scared to death now to give peppermint melatonin to my kids. They’re irritable and dizzy enough as it is.

I need to figure out some other way to deal with the Alaskan evening light. I suppose I could tape a double layer of tin foil over the windows . . .

Sponsored by Dimples and Dandelions for Serena and Lily baby bedding.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

The sun doesn't go down until 10 o' clock here, and I know several moms who put layers of newspaper in their kid's windows. We use light-weight, dark blankets to cover our windows.

The kids are amazed that it is light in the living room yet dark in their bedrooms.

Shannon said...

The dun sets after 10 here too in the summer. We have dark navy blue curtains over mini blinds. It isn't totally dark but feels dark. We are very rigid about night time routines even in the summer. Same routine to get ready for bed every night. I don't think it matters much what the routine is, so much as there is a routine that signals to your brain, Hey It's bed time. For us it is bath/teeth, mom reads out loud, dad tucks in and the kids can read in bed for 30 minutes with the nightstand lamp and then lights out. If there is any noise then it is lights out immediately.

I do take melatonin occasionally myself and it seems to work, but I have not given it my kids. I would probably check with the pediatrician before I tried it.

Kathy G said...

I take melatonin once every couple of weeks when I can't fall asleep. It works well with no side effects.

A couple of months ago I recommended it to Son #3. He's 21, and has an irregular schedule at work. Melatonin did NOT work for him; it actually had the opposite effect.

JanMary said...

I would be too nervous to give it to my kids too!

So what time does it get dark/light in Alaska at this time of year?

Here in N Ireland it is not dark til 10.30 pm and it starts getting light at 3.30 am - I saw it myself this morning unfortunately!!!

Kayris said...

Room darkening shades. My kids have them and their room is quiet often pitch black. Right now, the sun is shining directly at their windows and the room is still plenty dark enough for sleeping.

I've used melatonin in the past as a migraine preventive, but I find the recs for it confusing. Some experts say to take it at bedtime, and others say to take it mid-day. So who's right?

And for the record, the topical dog stuff isn't a dewormer, it's for external parasites-fleas, ticks, mosquitos.

Steph said...

We use bamboo blinds. You can buy them in light filtering or light blocking both. Those work really well to block out the late sun.

Carinne said...

I used melatonin for years on one of my children. It worked well. You might need to try it for awhile. Its not going to make you fall asleep when you're wide awake hours before you go to sleep. It a sleep aid - not a magic pill. Melatonin is what helps to tell your body that its time to go to sleep. If you take it for several days over time it will help to regulate your body.

April said...

How about TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR?

If you can't get a non-medical solution to work (better drapes, etc.), talk to your doctor! Anything you put into your body to change the way it works, herbal/"natural" or no, should be consulted with certified physician who knows what they're doing.

You don't.

Michele said...

Whenever I take melatonin (3mg, I believe) I feel like I'm underwater and I can't wake up. I need to cut the pills in half. It doesn't work on my teens at all, and I haven't tried it on the younger ones.

Keep me posted!!

Lana@The Kids Did WHAT?! said...

Oh Kim. I laughed my behind off with the vision of you squeezing the stuff onto your daughters shoulder blades. That's hilarious!!

I've never used melatonin, but I have a friend with an autistic daughter who would go DAYS at the age of 3 without sleep. DAYS. Her mom was so against medicating her. She tried the melatonin and she swears by it now. Her daughter is 5 now and sleeps normally.

I really liked this post!

Anonymous said...

Kayris, she mentioned topical cat stuff, not topical dog stuff, so I'm thinking it probably was Profender, which is a topical dewormer (kills internal worms) for cats (not currently available for dogs).

Alice Wills Gold said...

When we lived in our custom built shack out in the Alaskan wilderness for a summer, my mom pinned dark towels over each and every window. It worked just fine.

Tracy M said...

I give Bean a 0.5 mg chewable melatonin most nights, and it has solved all our getting to sleep issues. He never had trouble staying asleep, and still wakes pre-dawn, but now, instead of bedtime taking three hours, he's asleep within 30 minutes. And if you've got an autistic child, you know that's a freaking miracle.

Kris said...

We use melatonin here all the time. We use the liquid kind. As far as my pediatrician says, there are no such side effects as it is a naturally occurring chemical in our bodies and what we need gets peed out. I trust my pediatrician and it works with out any ill effects with my boys! Side note...you cannot overdose on melatonin... and children with autism have shown great improvement in sleep patterns with the use of melatonin, studies have shown. I say give it another chance, and don't use the peppermint kind...EW! Use the tasteless liquid kind and put it in your milk or juice or water before bed. We get ours in the natural foods section of Fred Meyer.
PS: We also use super awesome on speed room blackening curtains in our house. Helps.

K.

Kim said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys! It's great hearing how melatonin has (or hasn't) worked for you. A lot of what you're all saying matches right up to what I've been reading on various medical sites.

Sadia said...

I use a sun lamp to help with my own sleep issues.

April - certainly there were nicer ways to make the same point. There's no call to yell. (Yes, all caps is yelling.)

Katherine said...

I laughed the entire time. Hey, giving your kids melatonin is sure better than what I did to get my kids to sleep while I was in grad school.

Scribbit said...

I'm afraid I tried Benadryl on a red eye flight with my kids without the proper precaution of test driving it first and it ended up that my kids had it keep them up the whole time. What a mistake. Drugs are never the answer apparently :)

M said...

Interesting post here. I know its a guest author, but it seems a little out of place on Scribbit, generally. At least, its not the type of information I seek here.

I am, however, all for kids that go to sleep at normal times and stay that way until morning! Heaven knows we've probably all resorted to an arsenal of tactics.

Chrissy Johnson said...

My son has a little satin sleep mask he commandeered from me when the sun became relentless. Got it for $5.00 @ Pier One.

Cathy Kerton-Johnson said...

A friend of mine gave me melatonin to try for jet lag. At the time I forgot about it, so I can't vouch for it's effectiveness in travel, but I found it in my cupboard the other day. I was feeling ill with a cold, and couldn't sleep so I took some. Well, what a difference it made, and I must say the best part was I didn't have that horrible zonked feeling in the morning that you get with drowsy-making medicines like anti-histamines. I just woke feeling refreshed and a lot better after a good night's sleep. Thanks for sharing! I am glad that other people are finding it useful too. Maybe someone will do some "official" research into it, so that there won't be this problem of people thinking it is a quack remedy.

The Shultzs said...

I live in Pa and it gets dark here about 8:30ish. Bedtime routine happens between 8-9 and mine still complain when it's time for bed...lol I have room darkening blinds and they work great. Hubby has a difficult work schedule sometimes, so those babies keep it nice and dark for him to sleep at any time =] and they work great for the weekends if I want the kids to sleep in. =] hehe

Great post Kim. =]

Heart2Heart said...

Michelle,

Have you tried those sun shades that people who travel in RV's use? They are heavier and thicker than foil and we used them when my hubby was on graveyard shifts and needed to sleep during the day.

You can buy them at RV supply stores in a roll and you cut them to the size of your windows. Ours are rather large so we got 4 windows from one roll.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Never Winter said...

In my book titled "Perscription for Nutritional Healing" it states that to use it only occasional and do not give it to children. I have also read that melatonin is something your body produces and that will stop making melatonin if you replace it.

I would go with the room darkening shades.

From Juneau AK

Kayris said...

Profender! Holy moly, no one on the East Coast uses that stuff. No wonder I forgot about it.

Also--if you're buying herbs and vitamins, be sure to be them from someone reputable. Since there is no FDA regs, anyone can make some crap in a bottle and call it melatonin.

Dianna@KennedyAdventures said...

I've always wondered what y'all do with the uber sunlight hours in AK. I think the girls need pink satin sleep masks, pink pepperminty melatonin, and pink room darkening shades.

Would your husband go for it??

Daisy said...

My daughter occasionally takes melatonin on the advice of her doctor. She is 23, a recent college graduate, and her sleep schedules have been erratic at best. She's had no negative side effects.