Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the body that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This hormone can also be produced synthetically. Melatonin is sold over the counter as a dietary supplement and may be used by people experiencing sleep issues, such as insomnia or jet lag.
In recent years, the number of adults and children using melatonin supplements has increased significantly. As this supplement grows in popularity, parents may wonder whether their kids would benefit from using melatonin and, if so, how to determine the appropriate dosage.
We discuss the dosage and safety of melatonin for children and teenagers, as well as other measures that can help kids get better sleep.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
According to current research, melatonin might be safe for most children when taken short-term, meaning about three months or less in duration. At this time, there is not enough evidence to know whether taking melatonin for longer periods is safe for children or adolescents.
Guidelines for melatonin usage in children focus on its use for diagnosed sleep disorders and in children with certain medical conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Currently, there is limited data on melatonin use in children without these conditions.
Experts suggest working closely with a child’s pediatrician when deciding whether to give melatonin to a child or adolescent. In particular, medical professionals emphasize that melatonin should not be used as a way to pressure or force a child to sleep, but should only be given to children with a confirmed medical need.
How Much Melatonin Should I Give My Child?
Dosage recommendations for melatonin can vary depending on the type of sleep problem and the child’s age.
Doctors may prescribe melatonin for sleep-onset insomnia, which makes it difficult to fall asleep. For this diagnosis, doctors often use the following dosage levels:
- Preschool-age: 1 to 2 milligrams
- School-age: 2 to 3 milligrams
- Adolescents: 5 milligrams
In all cases, however, experts recommend always starting with the lowest dose of melatonin available, then increasing the amount only if necessary.
Side Effects of Melatonin in Children
When starting any new vitamin, supplement, or medication, it is important to weigh the risks beforehand. Although more studies need to evaluate risks of taking melatonin long-term, reported side effects in children and adolescents include:
- Increased bedwetting
- Mood swings
Because melatonin is a hormone, some health professionals have suggested that taking it as a supplement could interfere with a child’s development. However, several studies have shown no adverse effects in reproductive function or child development.
Melatonin may also interact and interfere with other herbs, supplements, and certain medications. A child’s doctor should be aware of any supplements or medications the child is currently taking before they start melatonin.
What to Consider Before Giving Your Child Melatonin
Before giving a child any sleep aid, it is important to discuss this decision thoroughly with a pediatrician. Childhood sleep problems do not always require treatment with drugs or supplements. Many times, changing bedtime behavior alone is enough. The child’s doctor can discuss whether melatonin is appropriate for the situation as well as the supplement’s risks, benefits, and dosage.
As a dietary supplement, melatonin is not regulated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As a result, the actual concentration of melatonin contained in different products and formulations varies greatly. The true amount can even be different from the amount listed on the product’s label. Some experts suggest using pharmaceutical-grade products, which may be more reliable.
Furthermore, what may work for an adult as a sleep aid may not be helpful for a child. One reason for this is that children metabolize medicines and supplements differently than adults.
Many different melatonin products are available to purchase. If a child’s doctor approves the use of melatonin, it may be helpful to ask about specific products, as well as the dosage and duration of treatment.
Alternatives to Melatonin for Kids
Aside from melatonin, doctors may recommend other drugs or supplements to help a child with sleep-related issues. Some of these can be purchased over the counter, while others require a prescription.
- Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines that relieve allergy symptoms can also cause drowsiness. Though antihistamines are available without a prescription, they do have risks and should be used under the guidance of a pediatrician.
- Valerian: Valerian is a plant that is marketed as a sleep aid and dietary supplement. The evidence is mixed regarding valerian’s effectiveness at treating insomnia, but studies report few negative side effects. Children under 3 years old should not take valerian.
- Prescription drugs: In some cases, doctors may prescribe drugs that are usually used to treat sleep problems in adults.
Note that experts caution against taking melatonin in combination with other sleep aids. They can have an additive effect in the body, causing an excess of sleepiness or sedation, and may interact in other ways that could be dangerous.
Anyone considering giving a child or adolescent any product to help them sleep should start by talking with the child’s pediatrician for guidance. Every situation is unique, and what works for one child may not be helpful for another.
Sleep Tips for Kids
Problems at bedtime are relatively common in children and typically respond well to behavioral strategies. Before starting melatonin, it may be helpful to try new routines and other behavioral changes to combat sleep issues. There are a variety of sleep strategies to consider that may help a child get better sleep.
- Follow a bedtime routine: Routines help children improve their sleep. Components of a nightly routine might include taking a warm bath, changing into pajamas, brushing teeth, turning off bright lights, and reading a bedtime story.
- Set consistent bedtimes: Keep children’s bedtimes the same every day, even on weekends. This consistency reinforces the child’s sleep schedule.
- Keep screens out of the bedroom: Electronic devices that emit blue light can delay the release of natural melatonin in the body. Using smartphones, computers, TVs, and gaming devices just before sleep can signal the brain to remain alert and awake. It is recommended to avoid screens for at least two hours before bedtime.
- Provide opportunities for exercise: Daily physical activity improves the chances kids will be tired by bedtime. When kids and teens do not get their bodies moving during the day, they may not feel sleepy at bedtime.
- Be careful with food and drink: Eating a large meal before bedtime or drinking beverages with caffeine can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
- Create a space conducive to sleep: Be sure your child’s bedroom is free from light and noise, and keep the thermostat at a temperature that is comfortable.
- Was this article helpful?