A recent survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that nearly half of the parents polled have given their kids melatonin to aid with sleep, despite repeated warnings against such measures.
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the brain’s pineal glands to support sleep functions. Increasingly popular as a ‘natural’ sleep aid in the adult population, that usage is now spilling over into the way adults treat their kids’ sleeplessness.
Why is supplemental melatonin a problem? For starters, it’s unclear the degree to which it might interfere with the body’s natural production cycle (including both the quantity and timing of that production, two aspects critical to a good sleep).
Additionally, sleep isn’t the only body functions affected by melatonin. The hormone impacts the body’s antioxidant defenses, helps regulate blood pressure and body temperature, and helps to control cortisol (aka stress hormone) levels. It also can affect sex and immune functions.
Dangers of Melatonin in Kids
The simple truth is that children should not struggle to sleep. If they are having issues, parents should dig into why and treat that issue rather than supplementing their children with melatonin or any other sleep aid.
Although available over the counter in the U.S., melatonin is only available via prescription in Europe and even the only for adults.
And because many if not most melatonin supplements are sold in gummy form, the CDC warns unsupervised kids may overdose on the supplement. High levels of melatonin can lead to breathing and other issues.
The CDC reports more than 4,000 kids were hospitalized over the past decade, five requiring breathing help. Two children under the age of two died.