Parents are warned not to give children melatonin after an increase in accidental poisonings.
Experts said there is no evidence that the over-the-counter supplement helps them fall asleep and they have no idea what many products actually contain.
Our bodies naturally produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin by helping to regulate the circadian clocks that control our sleep/wake cycles.
Melatonin supplements may improve your sleep if you have disrupted circadian rhythms due to certain life circumstances, such as jet lag or night shifts.
But they should never be the first tool parents of restless kids reach for, according to sleep scientists.
Increasingly, the supplement is sold in gummy or chewable form with enticing flavors like fruit punch, a feature that experts warn makes them appealing to children.
“The availability of melatonin in the form of gummies or chewable tablets makes it more tempting to give it to children and they are more likely to overdose,” said Dr. M. Adeel Rishi, vice president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
But the evidence that sleep aids can help children with insomnia is scant, and experts advise parents to work closely with a pediatrician before giving them to a child.
Pediatric Melatonin Intakes Reported to Poison Control in the US Between 2012 and 2021
A store shelf of melatonin supplements formulated for children
Olly Kids Melatonin Gummies
What is melatonin and how does it work?
– Melatonin is one of the most widely used sleep aids in the US.
– It is a hormone that your body produces naturally in response to changes in daylight
– Melatonin levels increase at night and promote sleep
– With the guidance of a pediatrician, it can be safe for children.
– Melatonin content can vary widely depending on the product, so parents are advised to be careful
– It should only be used if other methods, such as limiting screen time and scheduling an earlier bedtime, fail.
“Parents should speak directly with their child’s health care professional before giving melatonin products,” added Dr. Rishi. “Behavioral interventions other than medication are often successful in treating insomnia in children.”
While it can help insomniacs fall asleep faster and stay asleep, experts warn that less is more. Take 1 to 3 milligrams two hours before bedtime, according to Johns Hopkins sleep expert Dr. Luis F. Buenaver.
It has become the preferred over-the-counter tablet for people struggling to sleep and the market is booming. Sales increased from $285 million in 2016 to $821 million in 2020, according to federal reports.
The supplement is also ubiquitous. A bottle of 30 pills can be bought from most pharmacies for as little as $10 (£9.10).
The AASM warning comes on the heels of a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in June that such annual pediatric melatonin intakes increased 530 percent from 2012 to 2021 with a total of 260,435 reported intakes.
Melatonin ingestion accounted for nearly 5% of all pediatric poisoning cases in 2021 compared to 0.6% in 2012, and was the most commonly ingested substance among children reported to national poison control centers.
Fruity-flavored gummies appeal to children, as do celebrity endorsements.
Melatonin sales have skyrocketed, particularly during the Covid pandemic
Demographic breakdown of poison control reports.
Hospitalizations due to melatonin ingestion also increased in that period, particularly in children aged five and younger, with five children requiring mechanical ventilation and two dying. But only 1 percent of the children needed intensive care.
While the vast majority of cases reported to poison control were asymptomatic, about 84 percent, the most severe symptoms involved the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, or central nervous systems.
Melatonin overdose is rarely fatal, but more severe cases can cause very low blood pressure, disorientation, and tremors. Vomiting is a common side effect of melatonin poison, and when your child begins to slur his words, it’s time to go to the emergency department.
Melatonin content can vary widely, with the greatest variation in gummy formulations most likely to be used by children.
“In addition, serotonin, a breakdown product of melatonin, was found in 26 percent of supplements at potentially clinically significant doses that may increase the risk of serotonin toxicity in children,” the CDC reported.
Dietary supplements like melatonin and multivitamins are not subject to the same stringent regulatory barriers as prescription drugs and biologics.
The safety of melatonin is guaranteed by the Food and Drug Administration only to the extent that the product is proven to be unsafe in the event that it is shown to be harming people and then legal action is taken against the manufacturer.
“Instead of turning to melatonin, parents should work to encourage their children to develop good sleep habits, such as establishing a regular bedtime and wake-up time, having a bedtime routine, and limiting screen time as bedtime is approaching,” said Dr. Rishi.