Despite there being little evidence that taking melatonin is effective in treating insomnia in healthy children, a new survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reveals that a shocking number of parents have given the supplement to their school-aged children to help them sleep at night. According to the survey, almost half (46%) of parents have given melatonin to a child under the age of 13 to help him or her fall asleep. Further, results reveal that almost one-third (30%) of parents have given a teen over the age of 13 melatonin to help him or her fall asleep at night.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate your body’s internal clock. Many people take additional melatonin supplements in an effort to help improve their sleep. Although this over-the-counter supplement may seem like a simple solution to your child’s difficulties sleeping at night, there are important safety concerns to keep top of mind, as outlined in a recent AASM health advisory.
As noted in the advisory, parents should talk to a health care professional before giving melatonin or any supplement to children. As a “dietary supplement,” melatonin is not under FDA oversight like other over-the-counter or prescription medications. Melatonin content in supplements can vary widely. In one study, melatonin ranged from less than one-half to more than four times the amount stated on the label. The most significant variability in melatonin content was in chewable tablets – the form children are most likely to use. Some products even contained other chemicals that require medical prescriptions.
“Because many sleep difficulties children experience can be fixed with behavioral changes, parents should help their child establish consistent bedtime routines and practice good sleep hygiene first, before turning to melatonin,” said Dr. M. Adeel Rishi, chair of the AASM Public Safety Committee. “If considering melatonin use, parents should consult with a health care professional before giving the supplement to their child to ensure proper dosage and timing.”
To help your child achieve healthy sleep, the AASM advises that parents keep in mind these important reminders and encourage their children to develop the following healthy sleep habits:
Talk to a health care professional before giving your child melatonin. Discuss your child’s melatonin use with a pediatric health care professional before giving your child the supplement to ensure proper use, dosage and timing. If melatonin is used, parents should select a product with the USP Verified Mark to allow for safer use.
Keep melatonin out of reach. Melatonin should be handled as any other medication and be kept out of reach of children.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Help your child go to bed at night and wake up in the morning at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
Limit screen time before bed. Reducing exposure to screens helps your body prepare for sleep. Encourage your child to unplug from all devices at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
Develop a relaxing nighttime routine. Encourage your child to adopt a nighttime routine that helps them unwind and prepare for sleep. This could include a warm bath or shower, journaling, or reading before bed.