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Calpol is as common in a household with young children as nappies and wipes. As parents we were probably given Calpol and when we became parents ourselves we assumed it would be a good addition to our toolbox.
As a midwife, we would always have Calpol on hand and would always bring it up – although we would not name drop the brand!
Typically, we’d use it for sniffles, resistance to sleeping, teething (Read: should you use calpol or nurofen for teething?) or even when they appear cranky with no obvious cause. It is the magical liquid which just does the job.
One of the times which Calpol seems to work is when they are fighting a nap or a sleep even if they’re not apparently unwell. “Perhaps they’re in pain” we might say to ourselves as we get the syringe ready.
Often, it might actually appear to work, so we keep doing it. Sometimes it might not. This inconsistency creates doubts in parents’ minds about its effectiveness and to find out if it’s a myth and maybe put a stop to it.
So, here we explore the subject of whether or not Calpol makes babies sleepy or maybe it’s a coincidence. We think the answer will surprise you.
Does Calpol have any properties which make babies sleepy?
These are the ingredients of Calpol (and other non-branded paracetamol based infant suspensions):
Paracetamol 250mg per 5ml sucrose (contains 2.1 g of sucrose per 5 ml), sorbitol liquid ((E420 contains 1.895 g sorbitol liquid per 5ml)), sodium (contains 1.3mg per 5ml), propylene glycol (E1520), methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218) and sunset yellow FCF (E110).
Paracetamol is the majority of the solutions, with the rest being flavourings and preservatives.
None of those ingredients are a sedative, sedatives being a depressive substance which reduces irritability or excitement. Therefore, Calpol does not and can not make a baby sleepy directly.
But, ask any parent, including ourselves, if Calpol helped put their baby to sleep and the vast majority will say yes. So, how does Calpol help make babies sleepy and fall asleep?
How does Calpol make babies fall asleep?
Calpol doesn’t make babies sleepy, but the after effects of paracetamol can. Calpol on its own doesn’t make babies sleep but it can help to aid the body to release sleep related hormones melatonin and serotonin. How does it do this?
Makes them feel better
Calpol (paracetamol) eases pain and reduces temperatures (fever) which then makes the baby feel better and more able to relax and their bodies to releases melatonin (night time sleep) and serotonin (daytime naps).
Note: Melatonin is released as a reaction to darkness, so it doesn’t get produced in the day, serotonin is a happy hormone and is a precursor to melatonin – helps with naps.
Melatonin and serotonin can be blocked when the baby is in pain, has a temperature or generally in a bad mood. By giving them Calpol they can feel a little bit better and therefore more able to produce and make use of these hormones.
Therefore, the effects of Calpol can make babies able to feel sleepy and then fall asleep!
Last point – if your baby isn’t in pain or discomfort and unable to sleep, Calpol is unlikely to do anything at all except for the point below.
Most parents deep down that one of the thing which makes babies the most stressed is being surrounded by stressed parents. Contemporary Pediatrics have written a great article. Here’s a quote:
Because the world is currently a very stressful place and parents can be facing many anxieties such as how bills will get paid, whether the family is safe, and what happens if someone gets sick, it’s highly likely that parents will try and keep their stress suppressed, in an attempt to not worry their child. This study’s conclusions suggest that children are likely to pick up on that stress and become stressed themselves.Waters SF, Karnilowicz
Why do we bring this up? Well, if your child isn’t sleepy and you really need them to be, this is very stressful and your child can pick up on that and become agitated themselves. Calpol won’t make anything less stressful, but what it can do is give parents peace of mind that they’ve tried everything – giving a child Calpol in the hopes they become sleepy can relax the parent somewhat which in turn will relax the child.
A relaxed child is more likely to release melatonin/serotonin and then become sleepy.
To summarise, Calpol CAN make babies sleepy by relieving pain and lowering a temperature. But, there is no sedative in Calpol which means it is an indirect cause.