Parents with children of all ages struggle to get their little ones to sleep. With that said, most any parent can easily confirm that there’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture! Melatonin supplements are often touted as a solution to sleep issues for adults, so it stands to reason that one might wonder whether it’s a safe route for children – especially when seemingly everything else has failed. Is melatonin safe for children? Read on to find out:
What is melatonin?
“In its most natural form, melatonin is a hormone that helps our bodies know when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up,” says Dr. Brian Blank, MD, founder and family medicine physician at Ember Modern Medicine. “It is produced in the pineal gland in our brains and secreted into the blood and cerebrospinal fluid.”
Melatonin is available without a prescription in many forms. “There are capsules and tablets, some of which are chewable and some dissolve under the tongue, as well as liquid versions, gummies, sprays, creams, powders and patches. Each has their pluses and minuses, but there is usually something for everybody.”
Is melatonin safe for children?
According to Dr. Blank, melatonin can be safe for certain children with certain forms of insomnia, like jet lag, or neuro-developmental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or blindness. “There are so many forms of melatonin that care should be taken to find one appropriate for the child’s stage of development,” says Dr. Blank. “Infants can not be given gummies or capsules because they may choke on them, for example. Some adolescents struggle with pills as well, so liquids or chewable gummies may be more appropriate. The dosing for children is typically smaller than for adults, and can be as low as 0.1mg. You should check with your child’s physician for specific dosing recommendations for their situation.”
He goes on to note that studies of long-term use of melatonin in children is lacking, so it’s a good idea to check with their physician before starting a regimen that you would consider for long-term. For something like jet lag, children would probably only benefit from a few days’ worth of melatonin and Dr. Blank underlines that melatonin should not be used in healthy children to “promote restful sleep” or in an attempt to accommodate earlier school start times. “It is meant for children who have strong reasons for sleep disturbances, like neuro-developmental disorders.”
Luckily, there are several non-medicine-based alternatives to help with sleep for children.
“For some kids, that might mean more exercise earlier in the day or working on ‘sleep hygiene’ – no caffeine, screens or sugar before bed, for example. A thorough assessment of behavioural contributions can be undertaken with their physician to look for easier ways to treat sleep challenges,” says Dr. Blank.