Experts Issue Health Warning About Giving Melatonin to Kids

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has released a health guide urging parents to consult a doctor before giving children melatonin or other supplements.

“While melatonin may be useful in treating certain sleep-wake disorders such as jet lag, there is much less evidence that it helps healthy children or adults fall asleep faster,” Muhammad Adeel Rishi, MD, MBBS, Vice Chair of AASM Public Safety Committee said in a press release.

Rise in poison calls

As reported by Medscape Medical Newsmelatonin use has increased in people of all ages over the past two decades.

With this increased use has come an increase in reports of melatonin overdoses, poison control center calls, and related emergency room visits for children.

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Federal data shows that the number of US children who inadvertently took melatonin supplements increased 530% from 2012 to 2021.

More than 4,000 of the reported intakes resulted in hospitalization and 287 children required intensive care.

The AASM notes that melatonin is the second most popular “natural” product that parents give their children, next to multivitamins.

Melatonin is widely available over the counter. It’s marketed as a sleep aid, but there’s little evidence that taking it as a dietary supplement is effective in treating insomnia in healthy children, the AASM warns.

Because it’s regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration as a dietary supplement, melatonin is less regulated. Research shows that melatonin levels in supplements can vary widely, the AASM points out.

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In one study, melatonin levels ranged from less than half to more than four times the labeled amounts. The greatest variation in melatonin levels was in chewable tablets, which are most likely to be used by children.

“The availability of melatonin as gummies or chewable tablets makes it more enticing to give to children and increases the likelihood of overdose,” said Rishi, a pulmonology, sleep medicine, and critical care specialist at Indiana University Health Physicians, Indianapolis.

“Parents should speak directly to their child’s doctor before giving melatonin products to their children,” he added.

Keep out of reach

The AASM recommends treating melatonin like any other medication and keeping it out of the reach of children.

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Before giving melatonin or any other nutritional supplement to their children, parents should discuss this decision with a pediatrician.

When melatonin use is warranted, healthcare professionals can recommend the appropriate dose and timing to treat the sleep problem and ensure that the melatonin product used carries a USP approved mark.

“Rather than turning to melatonin, parents should encourage children to develop good sleep habits, such as “By setting a regular bedtime and wakeup time, having a bedtime, and limiting screen time as bedtime approaches,” Rishi said.

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