Is Melatonin Safe for Children?
Heidi Cohen, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, gives her take on the safety of melatonin for children having trouble sleeping.
Melatonin is an interesting medicine. It's a hormone that can help regulate sleep that's sold as a "natural" sleep aid supplement in pill, liquid or gummy form. What concerns me is that when you buy these homeopathic medications, they aren’t regulated. You don’t know how much you are really getting, and there's no regulating body to tell you how much medicine is in each dose, so you really don’t know what you're giving your child.
Why are you giving melatonin to your child?
If your children are having sleep issues, it's important to discuss this with their pediatrician. Most children will respond to behavior modifications and good sleep hygiene and don’t need to take medication to enhance their sleep.
Most children's first line of defense for sleep problems is behavioral changes and creating a good sleep environment. Try the following tips to to improve their:
- Create a cool dark place for sleep without a bright light
- Their bedroom should not have a lot of noise
- Play a white noise through an app
- Stop all electronics at least 30 minutes prior to going to sleep
- Don't allow laptops in bed
- Stop watching TV, texting, and watching TikToks
- Have some down time that’s not stimulated by anything
- Discuss sleep issues with your child's primary care providers
Read blog: Kids Need Some Z’s Before Learning the ABCs
When should you turn to melatonin?
Children who are on the autism spectrum may need assistance as well as children with ADHD (especially if they're on stimulant medications). A short course is fine, like if jet lagged for a few days.
However, there are some safety concerns I have with melatonin, for example:
- Where are you getting the melatonin?
- Is it the right dosage for your children?
- What message are we giving our kids when we encourage them to take a pill. Is a pill the answer?
Is melatonin safe as a sleep aid?
There are potential concerns when it comes to giving melatonin to your children daily because it may affect their immune system. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, and if you are on it for a long time and then stop, it could trigger early puberty.
During the last two years of the pandemic, parents and children have been incredibly stressed because they've been taken out of their normal environments. For example, parents having to act as teachers while working full-time, and kids being home more often with access to medications. Given this major change in our environment, I’m not surprised poison control centers are seeing a spike in melatonin ingestions in children.