Research has shown a significant increase in the use of melatonin for sleep among children and teens, raising concerns about its safety, effectiveness, and potential long-term health effects. Masu. Experts recommend caution and prioritizing behavioral solutions to sleep problems.
Nearly one in five school-age children and pre-teens now take melatonin to help them sleep, according to a new study published Nov. 13 from the University of Colorado Boulder. Parents in the area reportedly administer melatonin to their preschool children on a regular basis. JAMA Pediatrics.
Concerns raised by researchers
This is a concern of the authors, who note that safety and efficacy data on the products are scant and such dietary supplements lack full regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.
“We hope this paper raises awareness among parents and clinicians and serves as a wake-up call to the scientific community,” said lead author Lauren Hartstein, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Sleep Development Laboratory at UW-Boulder. “We’re not saying melatonin is necessarily harmful to children. But more research needs to be done before we can say with confidence that it’s safe for children to take long-term. .”
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have noticed an increase in the use of melatonin to help children sleep. Postdoctoral researcher Lauren Hartstein explains what melatonin is and how increased use can be problematic.
Melatonin usage trends and statistics
Melatonin is naturally produced in the pineal gland, which signals your body that it’s time to sleep and regulates your circadian rhythm (24-hour physiological cycle).
In many countries, this hormone is classified as a drug and is available only by prescription.
However, in the United States, chemically synthesized melatonin or animal-derived melatonin is available over-the-counter as a dietary supplement and increasingly available as gummies for children.
“All of a sudden in 2022, we started noticing more parents saying their healthy children were taking melatonin on a regular basis,” Hartstein says. night lightwhich affects children’s sleep quality and melatonin production.
In 2017-2018, only about 1.3% of U.S. parents reported that their children used melatonin.
To understand the current prevalence of use, Hartstein and colleagues surveyed about 1,000 parents in the first half of 2023.
Among children aged 5 to 9 years, 18.5% of those surveyed had received melatonin in the past 30 days. For preteens ages 10 to 13, that number rose to 19.4%. Approximately 6% of preschoolers aged 1 to 4 years had used melatonin in the previous month.
Preschoolers who used melatonin had been taking it for a median of one year. The median duration of use for elementary school and preschool children was 18 and 21 months, respectively.
The older the child, the higher the dose, with preschoolers receiving 0.25 to 2 mg and preschoolers up to 10 mg.
Risk and misrepresentation issues
In a study published in April, researchers analyzed 25 melatonin gummies and found that 22 contained different amounts of melatonin than indicated on the label. It contained more than three times the amount listed on the label. One didn’t have it at all. Additionally, some melatonin supplements have been found to contain other substances of concern, such as serotonin.
“Parents may not know what they are actually giving their child when administering these supplements,” Hartstein says.
Some scientists have expressed concern that administering melatonin to young people whose brains and bodies are still developing could affect the timing of the onset of puberty.
The few small human studies that have investigated this have yielded inconsistent results.
Gummies, in particular, also come with other risks. It looks and tastes like candy.
From 2012 to 2021, the author says: Reports of melatonin ingestion to poison control centers increased by 530%More than 94% were unintentional and 85% were asymptomatic.
Potential risks and recommendations
Co-author Dr. Julie Borgers, a psychologist and pediatric sleep expert at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University Alpert School of Medicine, says melatonin may have short-term benefits when used under the supervision of a health care provider. He said it could be helpful. This is especially true in young people with autism and severe sleep disorders.
“But it’s rarely the first-line treatment,” she says, noting that families often recommend focusing on behavioral changes first and using melatonin only temporarily. . “Although generally well tolerated, caution should always be taken when using any drug or supplement on a young, developing body.”
Anecdotally, she says she’s heard from parents that the supplement often works well at first, but over time their child may need a higher dose to get the same effect.
Hartstein said introducing melatonin early in life could have another unintended consequence: “It could send the message that if you have trouble sleeping, a pill is the solution.” There is a gender,” he said.
Study limitations and broader implications
The authors caution that the study was relatively small and does not necessarily represent national usage. Nevertheless, it comes through.
“The fact that so many children are taking melatonin suggests that there are many underlying sleep issues that need to be addressed,” Hartstein says. “Addressing the symptoms does not necessarily resolve the cause.”
Reference: Lauren E. Hartstein, Michelle M. Garrison, Daniel Lewin, Julie Borgers, and Monique K. Lebourgeois, “Characteristics of Melatonin Use in U.S. Children and Adolescents,” November 13, 2023. , JAMA Pediatrics.