Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
What’s Melatonin? | Can Melatonin Help Kids Fall Asleep? | Is Melatonin Safe? |
What the Studies Say | What the Drug Regulators Say | Incidents Related to Melatonin | Safe Alternatives to Melatonin For Children
Many kids experience some trouble sleeping during their childhood and teenage years.
Poor sleep can affect a child’s mood, behavior, and performance at school. It can also deprive the parents of sleep and lead to exhaustion and depression.
That’s why parents have been turning to melatonin to help their children fall asleep faster and for longer.
Melatonin supplements are considered safe sleeping aids for adults. But is melatonin unsafe for your kids?
This article explains whether melatonin is harmful to children and when kids can safely take melatonin supplements.
Melatonin is a hormone your brain naturally produces in response to darkness that helps you fall asleep at night. Light exposure at night can inhibit melatonin production, making it harder to sleep.
Even though it’s mainly known as the sleeping hormone, melatonin plays a role in other body functions. This hormone helps regulate your immunity, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Although melatonin is natural, many people use melatonin dietary supplements as sleeping aids for their insomnia and other sleeping difficulties. It can also be effective in treating jet lag and resetting the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
Melatonin is available in different forms – pills, gummies, and liquid. Melatonin gummies are chewable, easier to swallow, and taste like candy. Hence, many adults resort to giving melatonin gummies to kids who have trouble falling asleep at night.
Can Melatonin Help Kids Fall Asleep?
Sleeping problems are common in infants and children and can last for years if left untreated. That is especially true for kids with neurological conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.[5}
Research shows that up to 70 percent of children with ADHD and 30-50 percent of children with autism have sleeping problems. Many parents wonder whether melatonin supplements can help their kids sleep better.
Scientific evidence supporting melatonin use in children is limited. However, some studies on selected groups of kids showed promising results regarding melatonin’s effectiveness in helping kids fall asleep.
One study showed that children and teens with ADHD and insomnia who take melatonin fall asleep earlier. Melatonin supplements for kids with ADHD helped them fall asleep 16 minutes faster.
Another study concluded that melatonin supplements help children with autism sleep better. The kids could fall asleep faster and remain asleep longer. Some children also had improved day-time behavior, and the melatonin supplement had few side effects.
Other studies on healthy children and teenagers showed similar results. Nonetheless, these studies were only short-term.
Early childhood sleep problems can negatively affect both children and their parents. If your toddler or child has trouble sleeping, you can discuss the possibility of using melatonin supplements with your child’s pediatrician or healthcare provider.
Your doctor may advise against giving your child melatonin. That’s because sleep is a complex process, and various factors can cause sleeping trouble in kids.
For example, children afraid of the dark might want you to keep a light on at night. The light source can block melatonin production at night and keep your kiddo up for longer. The same goes for children who use light-emitting devices in bed.
In these cases, regulating your child’s sleeping environment can help treat their sleep issues without needing extra melatonin.
Is Melatonin Safe for a Child?
The short answer is that it’s still unclear whether melatonin is safe for children in the long term. As for infants, you should avoid giving melatonin to babies three months and younger.
What the Studies Say
Most studies show that short-term use of melatonin is generally safe in children. However, there needs to be more research on the long-term effects of melatonin supplements in kids.
Scientists still need to determine whether melatonin would be dangerous for your child in the long run.
What the Drug Regulators Say
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of melatonin in children and teenagers with insomnia or other sleeping difficulties. It also does not regulate the melatonin supplements available. Therefore, the content of available melatonin supplements can vary widely.
A study analyzed the contents of 30 commercial melatonin supplements of different brands and forms. The study found that the melatonin content did not match the label in 71 percent of the supplements.
Incidents Related to Melatonin Use
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there’s a growing number of overdoses, poisoning, and emergency room visits for children because of melatonin use in the past decade.
Many doctors do not recommend melatonin for healthy children who don’t sleep well. Instead, they might recommend practicing good sleep hygiene, a consistent sleep-wake schedule, and morning bright light therapy to treat your kid’s sleep disorder.
Additionally, gastroesophageal reflux or stomach acid may be the reason behind your baby’s sleeping problems. Treating the underlying medical condition will resolve your child’s inability to sleep.
Before starting melatonin for your toddler or child, discuss the potential risks and benefits of using melatonin with a pediatric healthcare professional.
Safe Alternatives to Melatonin For Children
If your child is taking too long to fall asleep or is waking up in the middle of the night, there are other ways to resolve their sleeping issue without resorting to melatonin or other drugs. Consider the following tips to help your kid fall asleep faster at night.
1) Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Studies show that proper sleep hygiene can resolve a child’s sleep problem in 50% of cases.
Make sure your kid’s room is dark, quiet, relaxing, and has a moderate temperature. Also, try to limit the duration of your child’s nap during the day and keep them from napping late.
These simple sleeping practices can make it easier for your kid to fall asleep earlier at night.
2) Create a Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine can also give your child a sense of comfort before bedtime, which helps them fall asleep faster. A routine can be set by a bedtime story, brushing teeth before bed, or simply coming in for a kiss goodnight before the lights go off.
3) Set a Consistent Sleep-Wake Schedule
You can help adjust your child’s circadian rhythm by getting them into bed and waking them up at the same time every day. That will train a child’s internal clock and help them fall asleep and wake up around the same time every day.
4) Limit the Use of Electronics Before Bed
Light-emitting electronic devices before bedtime can delay natural melatonin release and contribute to your child’s sleeping trouble.
Experts recommend limiting children’s use of electronics, including TVs, phones, tablets, and video games, during the hours before bedtime.
Good sleep is essential for the well-being of both children and their parents. If you’re struggling to get your child to fall asleep, consult a pediatric healthcare provider.
Short-term use of melatonin can help your kid fall asleep faster and for longer. However, long-term use has yet to be investigated. For this reason, giving your child melatonin is not recommended unless instructed by their doctor.
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