Medical Disclaimer: The following content should not be used as medical advice or as a recommendation for any specific supplement or medication. It is important to consult your health care provider prior to starting a new medication or altering your current treatment.
An estimated 20% to 30% of kids have trouble sleeping. While pediatricians may recommend melatonin to help kids sleep in certain circumstances, there is limited research on its safety and long-term effects.
Because melatonin is a non-prescription dietary supplement in the U.S., rather than a medicine, it does not go through the same rigorous testing as medicines do.
Can Children Take Melatonin?
A child’s pediatrician may recommend melatonin for a child having trouble sleeping, but there is very little evidence about melatonin’s long-term safety in children.
Before trying melatonin or other sleep aids, doctors usually recommend behavioral approaches to helping children sleep, including establishing healthy sleep habits and consistent bedtime routines. Even when melatonin is recommended, improvements in sleep are likely to be brief unless good sleep habits are developed.
It’s also important for caregivers to be well-informed about the regulation of over-the-counter supplements like melatonin. Unlike drug companies, manufacturers of melatonin-containing supplements do not have to prove their products are safe and effective. Since the food and drug administration (FDA) does not regulate melatonin as a drug, there are additional risks.
- Inaccurate labels: The actual melatonin content in pills and gummies may be higher or lower than their labels state. Third-party verification seals, such as the USP Verified mark, means the labels’ claims are more reliable.
- Possible contaminants: Some melatonin products have been found to contain substances such as serotonin that aren’t listed on the bottle. Again, USP verification ensures the product contains the ingredients claimed on the label.
Because of these uncertainties, it is best to speak with your child’s doctor if you’re thinking about giving them melatonin. Their pediatrician can tell you whether melatonin is appropriate for your child, or if another approach to treating sleep problems might be more effective.
How Does Melatonin Help Kids Sleep?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally by the brain in response to darkness. It signals the body to feel sleepy. Melatonin supplements are usually made synthetically in a laboratory and are marketed as sleep aids.
While research on melatonin supplements for children is limited, melatonin may be helpful for certain sleep issues. For example, research in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism has shown that melatonin may help them get to sleep more quickly and sleep for a longer time.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
Are There Any Side Effects of Melatonin?
Side effects of melatonin supplementation are generally mild. Side effects are more likely with higher dosages and extended-release formulations. If your child is taking melatonin, keep your eye out for side effects that are sometimes associated with its use.
- Drowsiness: The purpose of using melatonin is to induce drowsiness, but sometimes that feeling lasts longer than intended, causing excessive sleepiness during the day.
- Headache: Headache has been reported as a side effect in some children who have taken melatonin.
- Bedwetting: Some children may experience increased bedwetting when taking melatonin.
- Changes in mood: Melatonin may induce feelings of agitation in some children.
In addition to causing side effects, melatonin can interact with several medications, including those for diabetes, immune system suppression, and blood clotting. For this reason, it is very important to discuss possible drug interactions with your child’s doctor.
Can Babies Take Melatonin?
Caregivers should talk to a pediatrician before giving a baby melatonin, as more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of melatonin in infants and toddlers. Most studies regarding the use of melatonin have focused on older children and teens.
The sleep-wake cycles of infants are different from those of older children and adults, because their circadian rhythms are still developing. It’s normal for young infants to have very low levels of melatonin. Breast-fed infants receive melatonin in breast milk during night-time feedings.
Some experts advise against giving melatonin to babies. Instead, doctors and caregivers may want to assess a baby’s daily routine, including their sleep and feeding habits, to learn if changing their routines can solve their sleep issues.
What Is the Right Melatonin Dosage?
The recommended dose of melatonin depends on your child’s age, the type of sleep problem they have, and their health history and overall health. Your child’s doctor is in the best position to recommend the proper dosage of melatonin.
When given for trouble getting to sleep, doctor-recommended doses of melatonin are typically based on age. Doctors may recommend 1 to 2 milligrams for preschool-aged children, 1 to 3 milligrams for school-aged children, and 1 to 5 milligrams for teenagers.
When doctors recommend melatonin, they often advise starting with a low dose taken 30 minutes before bedtime.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are some potential risks to giving melatonin to kids. First, the long-term health effects of melatonin use are unknown. Studies examining melatonin use for up to four years have not shown any significant risks. However, it will take more research to be sure that kids taking melatonin don’t face any long-term health effects.
Another risk to giving melatonin to kids is that the underlying issues causing sleep problems may remain unfixed. Experts believe that, for most children, the best approach to improving sleep is to help them develop healthy sleep habits and bedtime routines.
Changing behavior is more likely to lead to long-lasting improvements in sleep health than using medications or supplements.
Although experts have expressed concerns about how melatonin could affect puberty, limited research thus far has not shown any effect. Late puberty is a condition where children do not show signs of puberty like growth of body hair, breast development, and voice deepening by the ages of 13 to 14.
Puberty is driven by changes in hormones, and melatonin itself is a hormone. Experts have raised concerns that extended use of melatonin could disrupt the normal interaction of hormones, including the decline in melatonin levels, that occurs when puberty begins.
Long-term research studies are needed to determine whether kids who use melatonin experience changes in development.
Yes. In fact, melatonin overdoses in kids are becoming increasingly common. Melatonin overdoses have risen most in children aged 5 and under who unintentionally take too much melatonin. The largest increase in accidental melatonin overdoses occurred during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, probably because children spent more time at home.
Melatonin overdoses can cause a range of symptoms, including stomach upset, heart problems, and seizures. Although rare, serious complications have occurred. It’s important to store melatonin supplements, like all drugs and supplements, out of children’s reach.
Melatonin gummies, like other forms of melatonin supplements, haven’t been researched enough to determine if they are safe for kids. Additionally, caregivers should use caution with supplements in gummy and other candy-like forms.
It may be easier to get kids to take supplements that resemble candy. However, their appeal also creates some risk. In several instances, children have overdosed on supplements that tasted like candy. Take special care to store melatonin gummies where children cannot reach them.
While doctors may recommend the short-term use of melatonin for children, there’s not much information about the safety of long-term use. Experts recommend talking to your child’s doctor and establishing healthy sleep routines to fix persistent sleep issues.