If your child is having trouble sleeping, you might wonder about giving them melatonin as a sleep aid. But is it safe to give melatonin to children? Learn whether melatonin is safe to give your little one – and ways you can help them sleep that don’t require melatonin.
A good night’s sleep is vital for your child’s health. So, what can you do to help your child if they are having trouble falling asleep? You’ve probably heard of melatonin as a more “natural” sleep aid – or, you might have used it yourself.
But is it safe to give melatonin to children? Today, we’ll cover whether melatonin is safe to give your little one – and ways you can help them sleep that don’t require melatonin.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that the body naturally produces, which helps us fall asleep. It regulates our sleep-wake cycle (also called the circadian rhythm). When it gets dark at night, the brain releases melatonin to encourage sleepiness. Then, when the sun shines in the morning, the brain “switches off” the melatonin release to encourage us to wake up.
The melatonin that you can find over-the-counter at the pharmacy (or at health food stores) is a synthetic version of the melatonin our bodies make. It mimics the melatonin in our bodies, so it acts as a sleep aid.
Is melatonin safe for babies and toddlers?
Melatonin is not safe for the youngest children. Avoid giving melatonin to any child under 3 years of age. If your baby or toddler is having trouble sleeping, your pediatrician can help you find the root of the problem, and suggest how to help your little one get a better night’s sleep.
Is melatonin safe for children?
While melatonin is safe for kids 3 years of age and older when it’s used correctly, it isn’t safe for most kids to use as a sleep aid.
Melatonin is only safe for kids who have certain diagnosed conditions that can negatively impact sleep.
If your child has ADHD, or is on the autism spectrum, they may have difficulty sleeping and may benefit from melatonin.
And if your child has sleep-onset insomnia (which impairs a child’s ability to fall asleep), or delayed sleep phase disorder (which throws off a child’s sleep-wake cycle by a few hours), melatonin may also help your child.
But if your child doesn’t have one of these conditions, you shouldn’t give them melatonin at all. Instead, try other ways to help them sleep, if they’re struggling to get rest.
And even with kids who have the above conditions, only give melatonin if a pediatrician recommends it. If your pediatrician has given the ok, follow your pediatrician’s recommendations exactly for how much melatonin to give, when to give it, and how long to continue giving the melatonin.
Side effects of melatonin
Melatonin use can sometimes lead to side effects, so it’s important to keep that in mind if your pediatrician says it’s ok to give melatonin to your child.
More research is needed on this, but there’s a concern that melatonin can lead kids to start puberty early.
And it’s known that melatonin may cause bedwetting, drowsiness or tiredness in the mornings, dizziness, headaches, and mood changes. It may also interact with medicines your child is already taking.
Melatonin isn’t regulated – amounts in melatonin supplements can vary widely
Why is melatonin unsafe for most kids and teens? Melatonin is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a sleep aid in children and teens, so the production of over-the-counter melatonin is not regulated. There also isn’t a standardized “safe” dose of melatonin for children – or even for adults.
Since melatonin is considered a “supplement” and not a medication, the amount of melatonin can vary between different brands and types of melatonin supplements. Chewable melatonin tablets (the ones most often given to kids) had the most drastically varying amounts of melatonin inside.
Plus, there’s no standardized process to check that the amount of melatonin listed on packages is the amount included in the supplement. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine warns that some melatonin supplements contain less than half the melatonin listed on the label, and others contain over four times the listed amount of melatonin.
Some melatonin supplements even contain high levels of other hormones, like serotonin, that they don’t list – and too much serotonin can lead to harmful effects.
The unknown amounts of melatonin in supplements can lead to accidental overdoses. In fact, accidental melatonin overdoses in children increased 530% between 2012 and 2021. And in 2020 and 2021 alone, overdoses, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and poison control center calls related to melatonin have increased especially sharply.
How to promote healthy sleep – without melatonin
There are plenty of ways to help your child get a good night’s sleep. So, if they’re having difficulty sleeping, skip the melatonin and try these strategies instead.
- Set and stick to a bedtime routine, where you and your child do the same “wind-down” activities every night before bed. Whether that includes a nighttime bath, reading stories, or singing soothing songs, these activities will tell your child’s body and brain that bedtime is coming. It also helps to keep “lights out” at the same time every night.
- Stop the use of tablets, phones, computers, TVs, game devices, and other screens at least 1 hour before bed. The blue light from screens can keep the brain from releasing melatonin naturally, and lead to restlessness.
- Keep your child’s bedroom dark and quiet. The darkness promotes the natural release of melatonin.
- If your child doesn’t like things completely quiet, consider a white noise machine or a fan for soothing, sleep-promoting sounds.
- If your child still has trouble sleeping after you’ve tried these strategies, talk to your pediatrician. They’ll help you figure out a solution.
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