New advice on using melatonin in children – Harvard Health | Directory Mayhem

A recommendation on over-the-counter melatonin supplements is issued.


When it’s time to sleep, parents really want their kids to go to sleep. Not only do parents want their kids to get the rest they need, but parents want to give themselves some rest too! It is therefore understandable that many parents resort to melatonin when their children have problems falling asleep. Recent warnings about melatonin call this into question.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone the body makes to regulate sleep. Commercially, it is sold without a prescription as a sleep aid. When you give your body more of a hormone that helps you fall asleep, you’re more likely to fall asleep, right? This is of course not always true; For many people, taking extra melatonin does little or nothing. But for some people it helps — including some children.

Over the past few decades, the use of melatonin supplements has increased significantly. It is the second most popular “natural” product that parents give their children after multivitamins.

A health advice on melatonin supplements for children

When many people do something, something can go wrong. And indeed, there are many reports of melatonin overdoses in children. Fortunately, while overdoses can cause excessive drowsiness, headaches, nausea, or restlessness, most of the time they are not dangerous. However, that doesn’t mean that over-the-counter melatonin is completely safe. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recently released a health guide with warnings against its use.

Over-the-counter melatonin is classified as a dietary supplement. This means that it is not regulated by the FDA like over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or diphenhydramine are regulated. There is no oversight on what companies put in the melatonin bought by parents.

And what they put in is exactly the problem. The AASM warns that the actual amount of melatonin in tablets or liquids can vary, from less than what is stated on the label to much more. The greatest variation is found in chewable tablets, which unfortunately are the most commonly used by children. It’s also hard – impossible even – to know what else might be in the supplement. The AASM reports that some melatonin products also contain serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that requires a prescription.

help children sleep well

The thing is, while some kids really do benefit from melatonin, like kids with neurological or neurodevelopmental problems, most don’t need it for a good night’s sleep. Before purchasing any sleep aid — especially one that may not contain what you think it does — there are some strategies parents should try first.

  • Keep your child or teen on a regular sleep schedule. For teenagers, this sleep schedule should preferably include nighttime sleep, not daytime sleep. It’s okay if your child stays up a little later on weekends or holidays, but try not to vary too much. Our body is more prone to falling asleep if we are used to falling asleep at a certain time.
  • Make sure your child moves during the day; it helps them be more tired at bedtime.
  • If your child has given up napping, stop napping. If they come home from school exhausted from staying up late, don’t let them sleep – it will only make it harder to fall asleep that night.
  • Have a calming bedtime routine. This can be difficult for high school students who have gym exercises and homework, but as far as you can limit the stimulating stuff right before bed, please do so. Remember to bathe, read, and generally be calmer as bedtime approaches.
  • Turn off the screens. The blue light emitted by screens can wake up the brain, and it’s easy to get sucked into what you’re doing on that screen. Ideally, screens should be turned off two hours before bedtime. For teenagers, it’s best to charge phones somewhere other than the bedroom. When teenagers say they need the phone as their morning alarm clock, buy them an alarm clock.
  • Create a sleeping environment conducive to sleep. It helps not to have a TV or other device. For some kids, room-darkening curtains are great; for others, a night light is essential. For ambient noise, a white noise machine can help. Make the room inviting and comfortable – for sleeping. It’s best if children don’t just hang out in their bed or do homework there during the day; Bed should be there for sleeping.

If you’ve tried all of these and your child is still having trouble falling asleep, talk to your doctor before giving them melatonin. There may be other issues at play. You can come up with ideas by brainstorming together.

If you choose melatonin:

  • Choose a product with the USP Verified mark as it is likely to be of a higher quality.
  • Start with a low dose.
  • Don’t give it every night If you do this, your child’s body will get used to it and you will end up having to increase the dose.

Bottom Line: If your child is having trouble falling asleep, there is a lot to try before trying melatonin. Talk to your doctor before you buy it — or try it.

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