Parents in the United States are increasingly giving melatonin supplements to their children, including preschoolers, despite the lack of evidence regarding its safety or effectiveness. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder revealed that nearly one in five school-aged children and pre-teens consume melatonin supplements to aid their sleep. This alarming increase in usage is in stark contrast to data from five years ago, where the reported use of melatonin in a broader age group was only 1.3 percent. Although the study does not assert that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children, it does emphasize the need for further research to determine its long-term safety for kids.
The research team conducted a survey among parents of 993 children aged 1 to 13 years to understand their usage of melatonin over the course of 30 days. The results exhibited a significant difference compared to data collected between 2017 and 2018, which included individuals up to the age of 19. Among children aged 1 to 4, 5.6 percent had taken melatonin supplements within the past month. This usage rate increased to 18.5 percent among 5 to 9 year-olds, and further rose to 19.4 percent among those aged 10 to 13. Notably, young children below the age of 5 were given doses of up to 2 mg, while older children aged 10 to 13 were administered as much as 10 mg of melatonin. It was also observed that many children were using the sleep aid for durations exceeding 12 months.
According to Lauren Hartstein, a sleep and development scientist involved in the study, the prevalence of melatonin usage in children from such a young age for an extended period is concerning. Unlike many other parts of the world where melatonin requires a prescription, in the United States, it is classified as a dietary supplement by the FDA, resulting in looser regulation and no need for a prescription. This relaxed approach to regulation potentially contributes to parents administering melatonin without fully understanding its effects and implications.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, signaling the body that it is time to wind down and sleep. It helps regulate circadian rhythms and is often used by individuals who experience difficulty falling asleep. While the available evidence supports short-term use of melatonin supplements for one to three months, with dosages ranging from 0.5 to 1 milligram (mg), the long-term effects remain unknown. Alarming statistics reveal a 530 percent increase in pediatric cases of melatonin ingestion reported to poison control centers between 2012 and 2021, predominantly involving children under the age of 5. Additionally, a recent study on melatonin gummies sold in the US found that 22 out of 25 products misreported the melatonin content, with one containing over three times the labeled dose. This lack of accurate information raises concerns about parents unknowingly giving their children potentially harmful doses.
While there is some evidence supporting the use of melatonin supplements for improving sleep in individuals with autism, its effectiveness, appropriate dosage, and long-term safety for other populations, particularly children, are not yet established. The authors of the study emphasize the need for proper diagnosis and treatment of underlying sleep disruptions, rather than solely addressing the symptoms. It is worrisome that such a significant number of children are relying on melatonin, potentially indicating a more widespread sleep problem that requires thorough investigation and intervention.
The increasing use of melatonin supplements among children, as highlighted by this study, presents a cause for concern. Although melatonin is not proven to be harmful, the lack of conclusive evidence regarding its long-term safety and effectiveness necessitates further research. Parents must exercise caution when administering melatonin to their children, as accurate dosage information and reliable products can be challenging to ascertain. Addressing sleep disruptions should involve a comprehensive evaluation of underlying causes, allowing for appropriate diagnosis and tailored treatment plans. Only through thorough research and understanding can the potential risks and benefits of melatonin in children be properly assessed.