About one in five school-age children now regularly take melatonin as a sleep aid, including many preschoolers, according to a new study of over-the-counter foods Addition. But some sleep experts warn that melatonin addiction could be putting young people at risk.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the pineal gland. It helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and acts as a signal to prepare the body for sleep. It also helps establish normal sleep and wake-up cycles.
Synthetic versions of the hormone have long been recommended as sleep aids for adults who have difficulty falling asleep. While melatonin is classified as a prescription drug in many countries, in the United States it is available over the counter as a dietary supplement and can be purchased in varying strengths. It is increasingly sold in the form of kid-friendly gummies, signaling to parents that melatonin is safe for children.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder wanted to better understand how parents use melatonin to help their children sleep regularly. your research, published This month in JAMA Pediatrics said the increasing use of melatonin is concerning because there is limited safety and effectiveness data on its use in children and adolescents.
“We hope this paper will raise awareness among parents and physicians and alert the scientific community.” said Lauren Hartstein, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the university’s Sleep and Development Laboratory. “We are not saying that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children. But much more research needs to be done before we can say with certainty that long-term use is safe for children.”
Surveys conducted by the researchers showed a sharp increase in melatonin consumption among children in recent years. As recently as 2018, only about 1.3% of parents in the US reported that their children were taking melatonin.
In the first half of 2023, Hartstein and her colleagues surveyed around 1,000 parents with children of different ages. 18.5% of children ages 5 to 9 had received melatonin from their parents in the past 30 days. Among adolescents between 10 and 13 years old, 19.4% had taken melatonin in the last 30 days. And among preschool children between 1-4 years old6% had received melatonin.
The elementary school and preschool children used melatonin for an average of 18 and 21 months, respectively. According to the survey, preschool-aged children who took melatonin used it for an average of a year.
Researchers also found that dosages tended to increase as children got older. Preschool children took between 0.25 and 2 milligrams, while preschool children received doses of up to 10 milligrams.
In adults, melatonin is sometimes recommended specifically for groups such as late shift workers, people recovering from jet lag, and people with mild insomnia. A large US study found that melatonin consumption remains relatively low but is increasing More and more people are taking higher doses than the recommended amount of 5 milligrams per day. In 1999-2000, only about 0.4% of adults reported taking melatonin. The rose to about 2.1% of adults until 2017-18.
The study notes that the survey data on children comes from parents in Colorado and is not necessarily representative of the entire U.S. Still, researchers believe the increase in melatonin consumption is significant and that parents should consider using it more carefully.
The researchers said they were concerned Melatonin Lax regulation in the US They have tested numerous melatonin products to determine whether the amounts stated on their labels are correct. In one case, they found that the pills contained more than three times as much melatonin as stated on the label. One product contained no melatonin at all, while some supplements were found to contain other substances such as serotonin, a precursor to melatonin.
Although some health care providers recommend melatonin as a short-term sleep aid for certain groups of children—particularly those with autism or severe sleep problems—the supplement’s long-term use in young people is not well understood. According to the researchers, limited studies have produced inconsistent results.
“It’s almost never a first-line treatment,” said Julie Boergers, study co-author and pediatric sleep specialist at Rhode Island Hospital and Warren Albert Medical School of Brown University. “Although it is usually well tolerated, we should exercise caution when taking any medication or supplement of any kind in a young, developing body.”
The study finds that the sale of melatonin in gummy form appears to contribute to an increased risk of unsafe consumption. Between 2012 and 2022, the authors found that reports of melatonin use to poison control centers increased by 530%, primarily among children under 5 years old. More than 94% of these cases were considered accidental and about 85% were asymptomatic.
If parents choose to give their children melatonin, doses between 0.5 and 1 milligram taken 30 to 90 minutes before bedtime should be effective. accordingly The American Academy of Pediatrics. Most children need no more than 3-6 milligrams of the supplement.
The Mayo Clinic Remarks that melatonin can cause side effects such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and daytime sleepiness.
Boergers said the preferred method for managing sleep problems should be behavioral changes, such as: B. limiting screen time at night, especially two to three hours before bed, and reinforcing regular sleep schedules. The blue light that comes from electronic devices and some energy efficient lighting devices is known to reduce the natural secretion of melatonin. after to researchers at Harvard University.
Researchers in the new study worry that giving children melatonin regularly could send the message that sleep problems can be treated with pills rather than first trying to change their behavior.
“If so many children are taking melatonin, that suggests there are a lot of underlying sleep problems that need to be addressed,” Hartstein said. “Treating the symptom does not necessarily address the cause.”