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Is melatonin safe for kids?

Melatonin is a hormone the body makes to tell the brain that sleep-time is near. It is also a supplement in chewable tablets, gummies, and capsules.
Is melatonin safe for kids?
Posted at 7:03 PM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-11 21:04:40-04

A good night’s sleep is crucial for a child’s well-being. When it comes to melatonin supplements to help sleep, the supplement is not the same as a  sleeping pill — but experts warn it can have difficult side effects.  

Melatonin is a hormone the body makes to tell the brain that sleep-time is near. It is also a supplement in chewable tablets, gummies, and capsules. Some 18.5% of school-aged children, and 19.4% of preteens take it, according to a December 2023 study published in JAMA Pediatrics. But as use has gone up, so have trips to the hospital.  

Dr. Jennifer Wheeler has seen a rise in the number of children coming into her hospital for what she calls melatonin overdose.  

“Kids are coming in, you know, with terrified parents because their kids aren't acting right. They're altered, they're unable to wake up, you know, they're vomiting, they have diarrhea, they have lots of agitation,” the pediatric critical care physician at Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital shared. "A lot of times we see this with younger kids. The 1 to 5 age group has a lot of accidental ingestions."

Recent studies show melatonin ingestion-related calls to poison control centers rose 530% from 2012 to 2021. And 11,000 children went to the emergency department from 2019-2022 for accidental ingestion.

“It's not necessarily a medicine that you can take to immediately feel sleepy and sleep throughout the night,” said Joseph Dzierzewski, research and scientific affairs VP of the National Sleep Foundation.  

"The dose that actually is needed to help initiate that calming sleep state is much lower than the dose that people take,” Wheeler said, adding that any dosage should be discussed with your medical provider before use. 

Clinical research and FDA regulations covering melatonin supplements are not as rigorous as those for pharmaceuticals.  A 2023 analysis of 25 different kinds of melatonin gummies found most — 88% — didn’t match their labels, with some supplements having up to 347% more melatonin than what was indicated on the label.

Research indicates that melatonin supplements could help children on a short-term basis, but only under a doctor's supervision.

SEE MORE: Is melatonin safe for kids? Day care head jailed for administering it


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