Extreme Parenting: Giving Your Kids a Sleep Aid

Juju Chang investigates melatonin use for restless children.
3:00 | 09/05/12

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Transcript for Extreme Parenting: Giving Your Kids a Sleep Aid
And that is how far should we go to get our kids to go to sleep? the dietary supplements melatonin to put their kids to bed. Does it really work? And is it safe? Abc's juju chang is here with the story. We've been comparing nightmare stories. I was up with my boys last night until almost 9:30. Reporter: And talking about how crazy it is because they're kids. Moms have long tried benadryl or hocus-pocus when getting them to bed. But it's back-to-school season. And getting to bed can stress parents out, when studies show that sleep-deprived kids perform poorly in school. So, what if the answer was just a pill or a droplet away? It's the dreaded bedtime ritual. Getting your kids to go to sleep. Both her kids had chronic trouble sleeping until she discovered an over-the-counter all-natural cure. Before we started using melatonin on the boys, bedtime was an hour-long process. Reporter: She gives them 1 1/2 milligrams of melatonin, a manufactured sleep hormone. We had it cleared by doctors. No interactions or research to support long-term effects. Reporter: Her older son has been diagnosed with a form of autism. And some medical studies show kids with fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer with the help of a supplement. Within 15 to 20 minutes, the tension will fall out of his shoulders. It's really one of the most powerful chemical messengers that lets your body know when it's time to sleep. Reporter: Melatonin is naturally produced by your brain. It's the hormone that helps your body to rest. The manufactured version can provide your body with a higher dosage. Because it's not fda-approved, some doctors have expressed concern that just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe. There's no long-term studies to look at side effects down the road. Reporter: Experts say in some cases, over-the-counter melatonin can have side effects like headaches, dizziness, and long-time drowsiness. Banks says her boys haven't had those reactions. And for her family, getting a good night's rest is worth the risk. This is a good solution to getting them a better night's sleep. I spoke with several moms and dads who swear by melatonin for their kids and say it works. But some say they have vivid dreams during it. Like all supplements, you have to be careful about mixing them with other medications. But the big question, if you're messing with hormone levels, does it delay the onset of puberty? Elizabeth? Thanks. With us is jennifer astin. We just heard the mother at the end of the piece say I do it because it's safe. Is it safe for children? To be clear, this is not an all-or none situation here. In some cases, melatonin can be safe for children. But in other cases, it can have serious side effects. When you're talking about melatonin, the biggest one that you worry about is that you're missing a medical, physical or psychological issue in that child that's preventing him or her to get good sleep. Therefore, you're just treating it without looking at the underlying cause. But what about us that deal with kids that don't want to go to bed. It's the end of summer vacation. The waning night. Tomorrow will be the first school evening in our household. And my boys don't want to go to bed. If you're confident you're not missing an underlying issue, is it okay? I like to resort to bribery. It's a nightly struggle in my household. And I have a 12-year-old dealing with this. But the biggest tip for parents out there, if your child, at any age, is having difficulty sleeping. First, you want to go to the pediatrician to make sure you're not missing something that can be easily treated and needs to be treated. Then, you want to work on what you can control, in terms of behavior and environments. You want to establish those bedtime rituals, routines. Turn off the lights. Dim light is what stimulates our body to naturally release melatonin. And cultivate those habits. If you go to melatonin, absolutely, you want to involve your child's pediatrician. You want to use the lowest dose possible for the shortest period of time. And long-term studies, there are none. So, we don't know how this drug or hormone works in children. You mentioned there are side effects, from vivid dreto nightmares, what are the side effects? They can disrupt sleep, which is the opposite of what you want. And it's a hormone. The way our body's hormonal systems work, is a delicate balance. It works on signals, positive and negative ones. We don't know how this can affect other hormonal symptoms. Better than benadryl, I would presume. Better than benadryl. But proceed with caution. And again, bribery in my household, works pretty well. We're bribing left and right, for everything. Jennifer ashton, thanks for being here this morning.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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