Should children take medication to help them sleep? David Rettew, MD, child psychiatrist at the UVM Children’s Hospital, answered that question and more for WCAX-TV. What follows is a transcript of that interview.

Interviewer: Well, we all certainly need our sleep and that’s especially true for kids and their developing bodies and minds. So, should you give your children meds for help with the sleep or what should you do? And, when should you stop? There are a lot of important questions here. Dr. David Rettew, you know him well. He joins us tonight for Health Watch, and he is a child psychiatrist at the UVM Medical Center and the College of Medicine. Doctor, thanks for being here.

Dr David Rettew: Good to be back.

Interviewer: A big question a lot of parents want to know, how much sleep should their kids be getting?

Dr David Rettew: Well it varies according to age and kids can be different, but as a ball park, adolescents could probably use around eight to nine hours and for elementary school kids, maybe a couple hours more than that per night, on average.

Interviewer: You and I talk about medication for different things all the time, what is your take when it comes to kids and medication to help them sleep?

Dr David Rettew: Well sleep is important for kids. Medications can be something that can be useful, but it probably shouldn’t be the first line of treatment when someone’s having a sleep problem.

Interviewer: We hear a lot about melatonin. I’m not sure everybody knows entirely what that is. What is melatonin? How does it work?

Dr David Rettew: Melatonin is a hormone that we make in our bodies naturally, in a part of our brain called the pineal gland. It’s involved in our natural sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin started to get used for people with jet lag and then from there it’s become much more popular as a general sleep aid for kids and adults.

Interviewer: Do you think it’s generally safe?

Dr David Rettew: Well there is some research that suggests that it is safe and effective, but probably not as much research as people would expect. In general, sleep medicines are not designed to be used every single day over long periods of time.

Interviewer: We’ve talked about these sleep aids. What we haven’t addressed yet is when does a parent know to take his or her child off of them?

Dr David Rettew: Well a lot of times these things are being prescribed by a physician and having a discussion with that person is really important because stopping medications abruptly and all of a sudden can sometimes be quite unsafe. The summer may be a good time if the prescribing physician is on board with it, to maybe try to cut back or stop sleep medications all together.

Interviewer: Is there a right or wrong way to approach that?

Dr David Rettew: There’s no right or wrong way, but a few things might be able to help the chances of success for some of these things. One might be to prepare everyone that often, things get a little worse before they get better. And not to give up if after stopping a medicine, sleep is not great on one or two days after that.

Interviewer: Go ahead.

Dr David Rettew: Sure. Another thing that can be important is to pay attention to what’s called sleep hygiene. People can look that up online, it’s some principles that can help people fall asleep. And a third thing is maybe to stack the deck on those days that you’re gonna stop the medicines, to make things work better. So that might be a later bedtime, or it might be picking a day where a child has been very active and might be prone to be more tired.

Interviewer: Dr. Rettew, some important information. Folks will be able to share it through our website, WCAX.com. Thanks for being here.

Dr David Rettew: Thank you.

Learn more about Child Psychiatry at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

Read more article by David Rettew.

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