NOV 23, 2023 9:00 AM PST

Melatonin Use Is on the Rise in Children

WRITTEN BY: Savannah Logan

A new research letter published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics has shown that about one out of five preteens and school-age children in the US use melatonin. It also revealed that many parents give melatonin to preschool-age children as a sleep aid.  

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in humans to regulate circadian rhythm and sleep timing. However, it can also be chemically synthesized or derived from animals. In many countries, melatonin is only available via prescription, but in the US it is classified as a dietary supplement and is available over the counter. Because it is considered a dietary supplement, the Food and Drug Administration does not fully regulate it, and safety and efficacy data are lacking. Previous studies have shown that many melatonin supplements do not contain the amount of melatonin listed on the label.

To understand current use of melatonin among children, the authors of the study surveyed about 1,000 parents during the first half of 2023 on their use of melatonin. The results showed that 18.5% of children ages 5 to 9 had been given melatonin in the last 30 days. In children ages 10 to 13, 19.4% had been given melatonin in the last 30 days. In children ages 1 to 4, about 6% had been given melatonin in the last 30 days. These numbers represented significant increases from 2017–2018, when only 1.3% of parents reported using melatonin with their children.

While melatonin can be a useful sleep aid in certain situations, long-term use is generally not recommended. Especially in children, melatonin use may have unknown side effects, and using it as a sleep aid may send the message that pills are the answer to sleep troubles rather than behavioral changes. Healthy sleep is an essential component of heart health, and behavioral strategies for optimal sleep include keeping your bedroom cool and dark, going to sleep and waking up at the same times every day, and avoiding caffeine near bedtime.

Sources: JAMA Pediatrics, Science Daily

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Savannah (she/her) is a scientific writer specializing in cardiology at Labroots. Her background is in medical writing with significant experience in obesity, oncology, and infectious diseases. She has conducted research in microbial biophysics, optics, and education. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon.
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