Is Melatonin for Kids Safe?
It's 11 p.m. Your list of chores is finally (half) done, you caught up on one episode of "Bridgerton," and you're about to let your head hit the pillow when you hear, "Mommyyyyy? I can't sleep."
Sigh. We've all been there. Since loading kids up with Tylenol PM isn't a medically sound option, parents have been stuck telling yet another bedtime story or stroking foreheads into the wee hours of the night. The bonding experience is nice, but the shared sleep deprivation? Not so much.
By now, however, you've probably heard of a hormonal supplement called melatonin. Melatonin for kids has become a common recommendation for battling occasional sleepless nights, but is it as helpful as people claim? And, more importantly, is it really a safe way for your child to get good sleep?
What's Melatonin for, Anyway?
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by our brains. It performs many important functions in the body, but the most important one is to regulate our natural circadian rhythms that help define a normal sleep-wake cycle.
The melatonin you can buy over the counter is a synthetic version of the same chemical, and it's used to help bring on a feeling of sleepiness on those nights we just can't seem to quit tossing and turning.
How Melatonin Works
A surge of melatonin is normally released when darkness falls, giving the body a hint that it's time to hit the hay. During the day, melatonin doesn't really come into play. Synthetic melatonin supplements have the same effect as natural melatonin.
In small doses taken early in the evening, it can help reset a child's biological clock to help them adapt to time changes or overcome jet lag. In larger doses, it creates a more drastic, sleep-inducing effect to bring on sleep quickly.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
While further studies need to be done to examine the long-term effects of taking melatonin on the regular, over 24 studies have shown that melatonin use in children with sleep problems is perfectly safe.
Current research indicates that taking melatonin supplements does not influence the body's normal production of the chemical, so there's little risk of dependency. As long as your child only takes it occasionally, not every night, it's a safe, natural way to combat sporadic insomnia.
Current Recommended Melatonin Dosage for Kids
Melatonin for kids comes in so many forms: tablets, drops, chewable vitamins and tasty gummies. There aren't any hard and fast rules for the dosage of melatonin, but it's best to start with the lowest dosage possible. Most kids respond to as little as 0.5 mg or 1 mg taken between 30 minutes and 90 minutes prior to lights out.
If that doesn't work, gradually increase the dosage; 2.5 mg to 3 mg is a common dosage for older kids, and 5 mg is effective in teens. Kids with ADHD sometimes need more melatonin, but more than 10 mg is rarely advised.
Fortunately, overdosing on child melatonin won't cause any serious harm, but for exact dosage recommendations, it's always wise to consult your child's pediatrician.
Melatonin for Kids Can Cause Side Effects
The downside of taking melatonin for kids is that we don't have all the answers yet. Most experts agree that it's safe when taken short-term, but since we don't have enough evidence about long-term daily use in kids and teens, we don't know for sure what effect frequent melatonin usage has on a child's growth and development. (If any!)
Short term, the side effects are mild. Some kids are drowsier the next morning, and young children may be more likely to wet the bed after taking melatonin. This is simply because they may sleep so deeply that they don't realize they need to use the bathroom, and it's no cause for concern. Since melatonin can interact with other medications, however, don't give it to your child if they're on any prescription meds without first running it by their MD.
For Long-Term Sleep Issues, Investigate Further
On the whole, melatonin for kids is a safe, convenient and painless solution for occasional sleepless nights. It's not a substitute for developing healthy sleep hygiene, however. Limiting screen time before bed, keeping the bedroom dark and quiet and establishing a consistent bedtime routine makes a huge difference to your child's overall sleep quality.
If your child consistently can't seem to fall asleep or stay asleep, your pediatrician may refer them to a sleep specialist who can help get to the bottom of more serious bouts of insomnia.