Melatonin for Kids: Tips on How to Improve Children’s Sleep

Melatonin, a hormone produced in your brain, aids in enhancing sleep. It is commonly used by adults for short-term sleeping problems, including jet lag – but is it safe for children?

Key takeaways:
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    The best way to know if melatonin is right for your child is to discuss it with the child’s healthcare provider.
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    Melatonin might be recommended for kids with certain health conditions.
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    Melatonin is recommended for short-term use only, and there are no established dosage recommendations for children.
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    Difficulty sleeping at any age can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life.
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    Research shows that good sleep hygiene improves sleep in children.

As a dietary supplement, melatonin increases your body’s melatonin and aids with sleep. Melatonin is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a dietary supplement and is available over the counter (OTC) in tablets, capsules, liquid, and gummy forms. The FDA regulates dietary supplements, but the regulations are different and less stringent than the regulations for prescription medications. Research suggests that adults may use melatonin successfully, with some success for jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, and anxiety before and after surgery. The adult dosage recommendation is 1 mg to 10 mg. Melatonin is recommended for short-term use only.

Is melatonin safe for kids?

Melatonin might be safe for kids under some circumstances. Taking the smallest dose for the shortest period is the objective. The best way to know if melatonin is right for your child is to discuss it with the child’s healthcare provider.

There is another significant safety consideration for kids regarding melatonin.

According to the CDC, from 2012 to 2021, sales of synthetic melatonin increased by approximately 150%. Along with the increase in melatonin sales, in 2020, melatonin became the most frequently ingested substance among children reported to national poison control centers – a 530% increase from 2016 to 2020. The increase resulted primarily from unintentional ingestions by children under five. The most significant increase in hospitalizations was for children under five years of age. However, most hospitalizations were for teenagers with an intentional overdose of melatonin.

Safe storage is a must if anyone in a household uses melatonin. Never refer to any medication as “candy.”

Symptoms of melatonin overdose include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation

Melatonin overdose can lead to respiratory depression, which is life-threatening.

While there is limited research on melatonin use in kids, some small studies show limited sleep improvement for kids with certain medical conditions.

What does medical research say about kids and melatonin?

According to the NCCIH, kids with certain medical conditions may have more trouble sleeping. Kids with atopic dermatitis, asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to have sleep disturbances than other kids.

In 2019, a review of 19 studies that researched melatonin effects on children suggested that melatonin helped kids with atopic dermatitis, asthma, ADHD, or ASD fall asleep between 7 and 37 minutes earlier and sleep 24 to 48 minutes longer. These are short-term results only. There is a need for further research in this area.

Since there is insufficient research on melatonin use in kids, many unknowns remain. It is unknown what effect long-term use of melatonin has, what dose to give and the timing of the amount, and if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Difficulty sleeping at any age can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life. When kids are not getting enough sleep, it affects their behavior and ability to function as needed during the day.

There are no published guidelines on the best way to help improve kids’ sleep. However, any attempt to improve sleep should include good sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene – what it means for children

Sleep hygiene means a consistent bedtime routine. A Sleep Research Society study shows that a regular bedtime routine improves sleep in young children.

The American Occupational Therapy Association gives these tips for establishing a consistent bedtime routine for children:

Select a bedtime for your child based on age or schedule and use this bedtime consistently, even on vacations and weekends.

Consider the best bedtime individually for each child if you have multiple children.

Begin about 30 minutes before bedtime and establish a sequence of events such as dinner, bath time, pajamas, story time, then bedtime, and ensure the child knows “what comes next.” Select a routine for your child that works for your family.

Turn off the television and electronics before the bedtime routine begins. Put away toys and play relaxing music to indicate a focus on getting ready for bed.

Help your child feel comfortable at bedtime. This may include a nightlight or supporting them through nighttime fears. “I know you can do it!” helps the child to gain confidence.

Confirm safety at night. For example, night lights in the bedroom and bathroom, ensure there are no tripping hazards like cords or toys on the floor and use a monitor for young children to hear them if they need help.

Ensure your children do not have caffeine during the day, such as in soft drinks.

Stick to bedtime even if they are not sleepy. Encourage older children to read for a set amount of time to help them relax and get ready for sleep.

Turn off all screens 1–2 hours before bedtime, as screen exposure from devices like cell phones, tablets, computers, and televisions can affect the body’s natural signals to fall asleep.

Remove all devices from the bedroom at bedtime. Having devices in the bedroom may give the unspoken idea that the bed is for play, not sleep.

When it comes to a bedtime routine, the sooner one is established, the better for your child’s sleep habits. Whether or not you use melatonin to improve your child’s sleep, good sleep hygiene (a bedtime routine) can make getting enough sleep possible for the whole family. If you are considering melatonin for your child, see your child’s healthcare provider first to get advice.

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