Children's Melatonin: An Overview

What to know if you're considering melatonin suppliments for your child.

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Melatonin is a sleep supplement marketed to kids and adults that's used to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. Here's what you should know.

Children's Melatonin Overview

The Top 3 Things you should Know About Children’s Melatonin:

  1. Your brain naturally produces melatonin to help regulate your sleep. Supplementing melatonin has been shown to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep for some people.
  2. Children’s melatonin supplements can work for some children when used in addition to good sleep habits, such as bedtime routine, turning off TV an hour before bedtime, and limiting daytime naps.
  3. Melatonin is not regulated as a drug by the FDA and there are no official guidelines for dosage and use. This means that if you buy a melatonin supplement for your child, it is not required to follow safety/effectiveness guidelines the way a “drug” would be, even though it contains active ingredients. If it’s something you want to try, check with your pediatrician and follow their recommendations.

What is Melatonin, and Is It Safe?

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain that helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. In most people, the brain makes more at night, which helps tell to the body that it’s time to go to sleep. A few things can change how much melatonin your brain makes, including how much light you get during the day and your natural body clock. Melatonin supplements (natural or synthetic) are used to help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep at night.

Is Melatonin Safe for Children?

That’s a good question, and one that needs more research. If you’re thinking about trying it as a sleep aid, remember that the FDA classifies melatonin as a supplement and not a drug – this means that the FDA doesn’t review melatonin products for safety and effectiveness before they’re sold. This doesn’t mean that melatonin isn’t effective in promoting sleep; most studies show that it does shorten the time to fall asleep in children and adults, and that people who take it sleep longer. The worry is that large, long-term studies on melatonin use in kids just haven’t been done.

What We Do Know

In short-term studies, melatonin has produced positive results in shortening the time to fall asleep for children in general, children with autism spectrum disorders, and children with ADHD, especially when combined with good sleep hygiene. During the studies, major side effects weren’t reported, but they didn’t do any long-term followup. These studies were geared towards figuring out if melatonin worked or didn’t work – they didn’t look at how much should be used, how often is useful or safe, or what happens if it’s used for a long time.

If you are considering melatonin for your child, the best thing you can do is to talk to your pediatrician – they can help you decide on the safety, dosage, and timing that’s right for you. Melatonin is an active ingredient (the part of a drug or supplement that “does something”) – if your child is taking any other medications, or has an autoimmune condition, absolutely, always, without exception discuss melatonin with your child’s doctor prior to using it as a supplement. It can interact with other medication and its impact on many chronic conditions is not well studied. It is also generally not recommended for children under the age of 3.

Children’s Melatonin Products – Gummies, Chewable Tablets, and Dissolving Tablets

Children’s melatonin is available in a range of formats, including gummies, chewable tablets, and drops. While there are no official guidelines, studies suggest that children’s melatonin should be given a minimum of one hour before bedtime, but that is most effective when given 3 to 5 hours before bed.

Children’s Melatonin Doses

Research suggests that a dose as low as 0.5mg of melatonin may be effective in helping children fall asleep. Ask your pediatrician what a good starting dose for your child may be and remember that melatonin works with good sleep hygiene – other things in the environment, like light from electronics before bedtime, can make it less effective. If it doesn’t seem to help, look for other things around your child’s sleep routine before upping the dosage.

Adult melatonin supplements often contain 5mg of melatonin or more per dose (10x or more most kid’s supplements). Make sure that you are using children’s melatonin products when you buy for your child as adult products have a much higher dose, and only consider products that are very clear on how much is in them.

Children’s Melatonin Works With, Not Instead of, A Good Sleep Schedule

Sleep comes with routine. The absolute best thing to help your child sleep is to create a schedule and follow it – it’s better now and in the future when they set their own nighttime habits. Along with the long term benefits, good sleep hygiene makes supplements work better – in clinical studies, kids given supplements and a good sleep schedule slept earlier and better than children given melatonin alone.

What is good sleep hygiene? Here are some pointers:

  • Have a routine – Keeping bedtime consistent is key to establishing good sleep habits and reducing the time it takes to fall asleep. Create a routine that works with your child’s nighttime habits; for example, if they like to read or be read to, create a standard order of shower time, brushing teeth, reading, lights out, and follow this every night (or as often as possible). Your child’s sleep routine should be age appropriate, and grow with them as they get older.
  • Limit screen time before bed – Too much light too late can have a big impact on sleep. Turning off electronics (tv, computer screens, tablets, etc) an hour before bedtime can help to promote an easier night. This doesn’t have to feel sudden – structure your child’s bedtime routine to occupy this hour and they’ll have more time to naturally wind down.
  • Limit Daytime Naps – Keep sleep for bedtime as much as possible if your child is having trouble falling asleep at night. The more they feel naturally tired, the more they’ll be able to sleep on their own.
  • Make their Bedroom Cool and Comfortable – Make your child’s bed a comfortable, encouraging place to sleep. Combine cooler room temperatures with at least two different blankets so that they can regulate if they become hot or cold at night and limit light as much as possible.

 Sleep is very important for children, and problems with sleeping are common. Melatonin may be part of the right solution for your child, and it can be an excellent option to discuss with your pediatrician as part of a general change in sleep habits. If you are considering melatonin for your child, remember to start small, research your products, avoid adult doses, and make decisions with your doctor.

Read the Research:

Melatonin for Chronic Sleep Onset Insomnia in Children: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial; Marcel G. Smits, MD, PhD, Elsbeth E. Nagtegaal, PharmD, Janine van der Heijden, MSc, Anton M.L. Coenen, PhD, and Gerard A. Kerkhof, PhD; Journal of Child Neurology; Vol 16, Issue 2, pp. 86 – 92; First Published February 1, 2001

Dose finding of melatonin for chronic idiopathic childhood sleep onset insomnia: an RCT; Ingeborg M. van, Kristiaan B. van der Heijden A. C. G., Egberts Hubert P. L. M., KorziliusMarcel G. Smits; Psychopharmacology; 29 July 2010

Clinical Uses of Melatonin in Pediatrics; Emilio J. Sánchez-Barceló, Maria D. Mediavilla, and Russel J. Reiter; International Journal of Pediatrics; Volume 2011, Article ID 892624

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