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Melatonin for Children: Pediatricians Urge Caution

More parents are giving their children melatonin to help them sleep. According to new research, nearly half of them provide the over-the-counter supplement to children under age 13.

“When a child is having a hard time falling asleep, it often means nobody in the family will sleep well,” says Elizabeth R. Smith, MD, a pediatrician at University of Utah Health. “Parents may resort to melatonin for help when sleep schedules aren’t predictable.”

While melatonin is generally safe for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend routine usage of the supplement and encourages parents to speak with their child’s pediatrician before providing it to them.

Pediatricians at University of Utah Health agree and urge caution. Here’s why:

Melatonin will not solve sleep problems

Melatonin is a natural sleep substance our bodies make that helps settle our brains and queue us to fall sleep. Melatonin is also sold as a supplement that helps you fall asleep, but it does not keep you asleep. It’s meant to be used short-term unless otherwise discussed with a doctor.

For short-term purposes, melatonin can help reset sleep schedules or help establish bedtime routines. However, sometimes it’s used more regularly for children with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or mental health disorders.

Melatonin is not regulated by the FDA

Melatonin is considered a supplement. Because of this labeling, dosage can get tricky. Melatonin dosage can vary from half a milligram up to 10 milligrams.

“That’s where we get in trouble, because it’s not regulated,” Smith says. “No one is doing the quality measures to make sure the melatonin is exactly as the bottle describes.”

A recent study found that in a nine-year span, melatonin ingestion increased 530% in the United States, causing a rapid increase in pediatric hospitalizations and a 70% increase in calls to poison control centers for children under the age of five.

While parents should talk to a pediatrician about dosage before providing it to their child, Smith recommends to start with the lowest dose possible. Not providing the right dosage could potentially lead to:

  • Vivid dreams
  • Grogginess
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Mood swings
  • Increased urination at night

More research is needed

Melatonin is a sleep aid, not a sleep solution. And more research is needed to better understand the long-term use of the supplement among children. Research has shown that providing melatonin to children on a short-term basis is relatively safe. Still, some studies question the impact of melatonin on a child’s growth and development.

Sleep tips for parents

The best advice for parents is to establish a night routine for their children with these three tips:

  1. Set a bedtime: Aim to put your child to bed at the same time every night.
  2. Have a plan: A bedtime routine may take 20-30 minutes and may entail changing clothes, brushing teeth, taking a bath, reading a story, or singing a song.
  3. Be consistent: Understandably, schedules and daily activities change every day, but establishing a bedtime routine will help your child settle down and fall asleep.