Melatonin is naturally produced by the body — in the brain, to be more specific — and it’s main function is to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Taking a melatonin supplement to help address sleep problems should, therefore, be safe, right? Many adults take melatonin supplements to get relief from insomnia, counter jet lag, or when work hours are reversed; anecdotal evidence and preliminary evidence from studies reveal that the remedy is effective. But what do experts say about using melatonin for kids?
Article at a Glance
- Putting kids to bed is a common struggle for most parents; but some children have more difficulty falling asleep than others due to an underlying condition.
- While the evidence still requires further studies, preliminary research has found that giving kids melatonin to help them sleep may be effective and generally safe.
- Most experts agree that melatonin should only be given to kids with the guidance of a doctor and only for a short period of time.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
As with all kinds of supplements, conclusive scientific evidence that supports the benefits of melatonin for both kids and adults is still lacking. As a hormone, melatonin supplements may have some yet unknown effect on hormone-regulated processes that are vital to a child’s growth and development, particularly if kids are given melatonin for a prolonged period.
For instance, it is not yet known if giving kids melatonin to help them sleep can affect the onset of puberty and/or menstruation. There are also concerns about how melatonin may affect someone with a hormone-related disease, such as thyroid disease or diabetes.
Erring on the side of caution is, of course, the logical approach taken by healthcare experts, and parents should do the same. Let us take a closer look at what we know, so far, about melatonin for kids to help parents make a more informed decision about this widely popular sleep aid.
- A study that looked at randomized treatment trials for sleep disorders in children which included 19 randomized controlled trials involving melatonin revealed that melatonin improved sleep latency (the amount of time it takes a person to go from wakefulness to deep sleep), sleep duration, and wake time after sleep onset. Greatest improvement was observed in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other neurodevelopmental disorders.
- The same study found that “adverse events were infrequent with melatonin, but more frequent than placebo in children taking other treatment trial drugs.
- Another study involving children with autism found that “Melatonin appears to be a safe and well-tolerated treatment for insomnia in children with autism spectrum disorders.”
- A study involving children with ADHD and chronic sleep-onset insomnia concluded that “Melatonin advanced circadian rhythms” and “enhanced total time asleep.”
- The National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health (NCCIH) reports that melatonin appears “to be safe for most children for short-term use.”
What is the Right Dosage for Kids?
More is not better, especially when it comes to giving supplements to children. Keep in mind that the studies that have shown the potential effectiveness of melatonin for kids used very low amounts of the hormone — only in micrograms, to be exact. In comparison, most melatonin supplements are available in doses measured in milligrams. (Take note that 1 milligram is equivalent to 1000 micrograms.)
A small dose of melatonin for adults — or the smallest dose available — already goes a long way towards carrying them off to dreamland. Children weigh much less than adults, so they will need even lower doses to help trigger sleepiness.
The purity and quality of the product is very important to ensure that the correct dosage is administered. And it is always best to work with a pediatrician, as doctors will be the most qualified to determine the appropriate dosage for a child. Because a melatonin supplement is taken orally, it should be given two to four hours before bedtime to give the body adequate time to absorb the substance.
Always start your child with the smallest recommended dose, preferably recommended by their doctor. Observe how your child responds to this dose over the next few days or so. If you need to increase the dose, you may do it by 0.5 mg increments. Some children benefit from as little as 0.5 mg of melatonin. Younger children are often given 1 to 3 mg; and most don’t need more than 3 mg to help them get the zzzs. Children with special needs may need up to 10 mg. Again, the best approach is with the guidance of a doctor. Keep a close eye on any possible side effects; discontinue use if there are any and consult your kid’s doctor as soon as possible.
Healthcare experts also recommend that children should take a break from melatonin after 3 to 6 months of treatment, and they do not advise giving kids melatonin for a longer period — unless it is prescribed by their pediatrician.
Available evidence reveals that melatonin gummies work in helping remedy insomnia and promoting good quality sleep. As long as the product is manufactured by a reputable company, you can have a better guarantee that it contains the correct dosage — as stated on the product label.
Melatonin gummies are a good choice for kids because the supplements come in a wide variety of delicious flavors that children will enjoy. Especially if the child has ASD or ADHD and/or is a picky eater, melatonin gummies can make it easier for you to administer the supplement.
Can Melatonin Cause Problems?
Experts agree that melatonin is not something that children should use long-term as the long-term effects of this chemical is not yet known.
In the same report made by the NCCIH, the agency also cautions that there are still uncertainties about dosage, long-term effects, and whether the benefits outweigh possible risks.
In general, supplements for kids may pose the risk of affecting their growth and development. There have also been documented side effects of melatonin when given to children, including agitation, drowsiness, headaches, increased nighttime urination, and/or bed-wetting. As with all supplements, melatonin may also interact with drugs a child is taking for other conditions.
When Should Melatonin Not Be Used?
In general, children under 3 years old and who are healthy overall should not be given melatonin to help them sleep. At this age, any resistance to sleep is normal and almost always a behavioral concern.
Melatonin should also be avoided if the insomnia/sleep problems are situational (or caused by anxiety, stress, sadness, or any similar condition triggered by a specific event); if the sleep problem is a side effect of a temporary illness, such as ear infection, or an injury; or if the insomnia is caused by an underlying condition such as sleep apnea or a more serious disease, like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
Children should always be taught healthy sleep practices and if these don’t work, other natural remedies for sleep problems should be exhausted before giving melatonin supplements a try.
Is melatonin safe for kids? Most studies show that melatonin for kids is generally safe when used for a short period of time. But as of now, it is impossible to say if melatonin is safe for long-term use.
Children with certain conditions may benefit from melatonin more than other kids will. A doctor might prescribe its use in children diagnosed with ASD or ADHD and who suffer from chronic insomnia and other sleep problems.
If you’re thinking of giving your child melatonin, consult your doctor first; this is especially important if your kid is already taking other medications. The benefits of melatonin have yet to be fully understood, so as a responsible parent, always err on the side of caution when giving your child any type of supplement.