Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?

What You Need to Know About Melatonin and Kids

What would you give for a peaceful night's sleep? If only your little one could drift off to dreamland quickly and easily. Some kids have sleep dysfunctions or medical conditions that make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. Others have behavioral reasons for staying up late. Before you add melatonin to your child's nightly routine, consider the safety of the supplement.

What Is Melatonin?

six years old child sleeping in bed with alarm clock

Is Melatonin Safe for Toddlers?

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Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your pineal gland. It helps regulate your sleep cycles by telling your body when it's time to head to bed. Natural melatonin production kicks into high gear after sunset. In the morning, your body slows its production of the hormone.

The synthetic version of melatonin comes in various forms, including pills, chewables and liquids. People who experience insomnia often take these supplements to help themselves fall asleep faster.

Melatonin supplements show effectiveness in helping children fall asleep, including kids who have insomnia. There's not a lot of evidence showing that it helps them stay asleep, though. If your child wakes frequently in the night, melatonin might not help much.

Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?

When your child has sleep issues, you start looking for anything that could possibly help. But you also want to know the options you choose are safe. The problem in judging the safety of melatonin for kids is the lack of clear-cut evidence. There isn't much research on the topic, so it's difficult to say how supplemental melatonin use might affect kids either short-term or long-term.

Another issue is lack of regulation. It's not considered a medication, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate it. Instead, melatonin is categorized as a food supplement. The quality and concentration of the synthetic melatonin can vary greatly from one brand to the next, or even from one batch to another under the same brand.

In general, melatonin seems relatively safe for kids. Children sometimes experience minor side effects, including headaches, grogginess and bed-wetting. Studies done on kids who use melatonin often show improved sleep without any major side effects.

The concern some doctors have is over the potential for long-term effects. Melatonin could affect hormones related to puberty. Since no long-term studies have been done, it's impossible to say how the supplement affects those hormones.

Should You Use Melatonin for Your Kids?

Is There Something Natural I Can Give My Child to Help Sleep Through the Night?

Is There Something Natural I Can Give My Child to Help Sleep Through the Night?

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It's always a good idea to start by talking to your pediatrician if your child has difficulty sleeping. Your doctor may be able to diagnose an underlying cause of the sleep issue if there is one. Treating that medical issue may be more effective in helping your child sleep than using melatonin.

Discuss the possibility of using melatonin with the doctor to determine if your child has any underlying medical issues that could make using the supplement unsafe. Together, you may decide melatonin is worth a try if your child's sleep dysfunction means she doesn't get the sleep she needs.

Certain situations don't call for melatonin. Since it's unclear what the long-term effects may be, it's best to avoid using melatonin if it's purely for your convenience. If your child's insomnia is short-term or situational, that is, resulting from something like school-related stress or illness, it may be best to skip melatonin supplements. If it doesn't take longer than 30 minutes for your child to fall asleep, she probably doesn't need it.

Dosing Issues

Since the FDA does not regulate melatonin supplements, dosing can be inconsistent between brands. Specific dosing guidelines for kids also simply don't exist due to the fact that melatonin isn't a medication.

If you decide to try melatonin for your child, talk to his doctor to determine dosing recommendations. It's always best to start with a low dose to see how your child responds. Some kids fall asleep easily with a very small dose. Others need more.

What Else Can Help?

Changing your child's bedtime routine and habits can help improve sleep if insomnia doesn't have a medical cause. Things like anxiety, screen time before bed and restless leg syndrome can cause kids to have trouble falling asleep. Before reaching for a supplement, try making changes to your child's routine, such as:

  • Using the bed only for sleeping
  • Keeping a consistent bedtime
  • Having a consistent routine leading up to bedtime
  • Allowing no screen time before bed
  • Using no caffeine
  • Addressing causes of anxiety
  • Trying relaxation techniques to help calm your child's mind