The use of melatonin as a sleep aid for children in the United States is growing increasingly common, with nearly one in five children under the age of 14 now using it, according to a recent study. The study found that parents are even giving melatonin to younger children, with about 18% of children aged five to nine using it. Last year, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a health advisory urging parents to consult a doctor before giving melatonin to their children.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that regulates sleep cycles. In the US, it is considered a dietary supplement and can be purchased without a prescription. However, in many other countries, it is classified as a drug. The study, which surveyed parents of 993 children aged one to 14, revealed a significant increase in melatonin use in recent years. While melatonin can be a short-term solution to promote sleep, the study found that parents were using it regularly, with preschoolers taking the supplement for a median of 12 months, primary school-aged children for 18 months, and pre-teens for 21 months.
Despite the study's findings, it is important to note that it was relatively small and may not represent nationwide usage. However, melatonin use has been on the rise across all age groups for the past few decades. An online survey conducted earlier this year by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that approximately 46% of parents have given melatonin to children under the age of 13 to help them sleep. The survey also revealed that fathers are more likely to give melatonin than mothers, and younger parents are more likely to provide the sleep aid than older parents.
There have been reports of accidental melatonin ingestion in children, with a 530% increase in such reports between 2012 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most cases had no symptoms, but some children ended up in intensive care. Previous research has also indicated that the actual dose of melatonin in supplements often differs from the amount stated on the packaging label. While mild side effects like daytime sleepiness, headache, nausea, and dizziness can occur, the long-term effects of melatonin consumption in children and adolescents are still largely unknown.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises parents to treat melatonin like any medication and keep it out of reach of children. They also recommend consulting a pediatric health worker before use and suggest that sleep problems can often be better managed through changes in schedules, habits, or behaviors rather than relying on melatonin. If melatonin is used, a medical professional should recommend the appropriate dose and timing to address sleep issues.