KCTV5 Special Report: How the controversial sleep aid melatonin - KCTV5

KCTV5 Special Report: How the controversial sleep aid melatonin is being used locally

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LENEXA, KS (KCTV) -

A doctor who prescribes melatonin to sleep-deprived children in the Kansas City area says the hormonal supplement should only be used as a last resort, according to a KCTV5 Special Report.

Alexander Johnstone, 3, is a talkative bundle of energy. His mom Alana will tell you there was a time when he couldn't speak like other kids his age, largely because he'd never had a good night's rest.

"Sleep, from the beginning, started poorly," Johnstone said.

She said she tried every remedy she could think to help Alexander drift off - from lavender baths and massage to zero stimulation at bedtime.

"(I) would lay in bed with him four to six hours a day, day in day out, week in week out, month in month out, in order to take a nap and go to bed," Johnstone said.

"So you would lay with him for four to six hours. He was not sleeping?" KCTV5 reporter Carolyn Long questioned.

"No," Johnstone replied. "(He'd) lay on my arm. Just lay there."

Finally, Johnstone turned to sleep specialist Dr. Robert Beckerman at Children's Mercy Hospital for help. After a thorough examination and complete sleep history, Beckerman determined Alexander's body wasn't producing enough melatonin and he would require a daily dose of the naturally-occurring hormone.

But the prescription came with a list of rules.

"It has to be in conjunction with improved sleep habits and consistency with bedtime and waking," Beckerman said.

Beckerman said the parents of children taking melatonin must also maintain what he calls proper "sleep hygiene" by turning off electronics at least one hour before bedtime, making dietary changes and limiting exercise to certain parts of the day.

For the Johnstones, the melatonin worked the very first night.

"We went through the routine and he fell asleep within 20 minutes," Johnstone said.

"I cried. I cried," Johnstone said when asked what she thought of the results.

Once Alexander started getting enough sleep, some amazing changes followed.

"He started talking," Johnstone said. "It all came together, all because of sleep."

Alexander had to skip his afternoon nap to make his most recent appointment. It didn't take Beckerman long to notice the effects of the missed rest.

"That's why his behavior is becoming a bit of an issue - acting out, getting aggressive, grumpy," Beckerman said, "because he's just not getting enough good, quality sleep."

Beckerman considers melatonin a short-term solution for the sleep-deprived. In time, he will wean Alexander off the supplement as the boy's own production of the hormone will kick in.

Until then, every night follows the same steps. One hour before bedtime, Alexander gets to play minus any electronics - no TV or computer games allowed. Next, he eats a light snack. The melatonin is taken 15 minutes before bedtime. Then Alexander brushes his teeth, climbs into bed for two books with mom, the lights go out and mom leaves the room.

Melatonin is not without its critics, raising concerns that the hormonal supplement could affect growth, sexual development and puberty.

According to Beckerman, there is "very little scientific evidence that it affects puberty or other hormones."

Pharmacist Lisa Everett said that has never proven true in scientific studies and it is "one of the hormones you can take that doesn't shut down the person's own production."

If you decide melatonin is something you need, Everett warns against buying just any available option. Everett, who works at the O'Brien Pharmacy in Mission, KS, said that in her own studies she discovered not all supplements are created equal.

"We have products that are available over the counter that don't have the amount of melatonin they claim to," Everett said.

Everett has actually mixed her own version of melatonin. For best results, she suggests it be taken in a sub-lingual form, or under the tongue.

There is one particular population that is known to be in need of additional melatonin. Studies have shown natural production of the hormone in people who take medications for the conditions of Attention deficit disorder, ADD, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, can be suppressed.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.

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