By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Many of my ADHD patients had issues sleeping and I often received questions about melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the human body to aid with sleeping.

A recent study had shown that 46 percent of parents had used melatonin for their children at one time or another.

One problem is that 46 percent of children do not have sleep problems. A second issue is that even those with sleep problems do not necessarily have the kind of problem that melatonin will fix.

Normally, melatonin begins to be secreted about two hours before we go to sleep. That allows a period of time for the individual to become drowsy.

Parents who think that they need to give it at bedtime have missed the window of opportunity. Parents who think it will help with waking up in the middle of the night will find it to be ineffective for that purpose.

Another issue is related to the false sense of security that comes with using a hormone that the body already produces on its own.

However, melatonin is not regulated by the FDA. That means that the manufacturers can make the product without any real supervision.

One study compared the amounts of melatonin in a product to the amounts listed on the label. They looked at 31 different preparations. The actual amount of melatonin present varied from a low of 83 percent less than listed to a high of 478 percent more than listed.

There are several lessons to be learned here. The first is that you never know what you are getting when you purchase a bottle of melatonin. The second is that it’s good for some kinds of sleep problems but not for most of them. 

The third is that the dose needs to be given about 2 to 3 hours before sleep is planned. If you give it at bedtime to help someone fall asleep, it will help that happen several hours later.

The logical thing to do is to have a conversation with a physician. That conversation should include whether melatonin is right for the type of sleep problem that the individual is having. It should also include proper timing of the melatonin.

It might be a natural ingredient. However, that does not mean its use needs to be taken for granted.