Nearly 20 percent of children ages five to 13 take the sleeping pill melatonin, up from just one percent six years ago and prompting scientists to “sound the alarm” about its growing use.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder analyzed data from 993 children ages one to 13 and found that hormone use increased significantly with age.
Overall, in the previous 30 days, about 39 percent of the children included in the story had consumed melatonin, a hormone produced naturally in the body that plays a role in sleep.
The prevalence of melatonin use was highest among children ages 10 to 13, with parents reporting that 19.4 percent had taken melatonin. Prevalence was second highest in children ages five to nine, with parents reporting that 18.5 percent had taken sleep aids in the previous 30 days.
Lead author Dr. Lauren Hartstein, a member of CU Boulder’s Sleep and Development Laboratory, said, “We hope this paper will raise awareness among parents and doctors, and sound the alarm for the scientific community.”
‘We’re not saying that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children. “But much more research needs to be done before we can say with confidence that it is safe for children to take the drug long-term.”
The graph above shows melatonin use in children ages one to 13 in the previous 30 days.
In the US, melatonin supplements can be purchased over the counter as a dietary supplement (including in kid-friendly gummies) without a prescription.
The smallest percentage of parents who reported using were those of children between one and four years old: 5.6 percent.
The UC Boulder team reported that in a 2017-2018 study, only 1.3 percent of American parents reported that their children consumed melatonin in the previous 30 days.
Sales of the supplement doubled in the US between 2017 and 2020.
The brain produces melatonin in response to darkness and helps regulate the body’s internal clock, signaling the body that it is time to sleep.
In many countries, the hormone is classified as a medicine and is only available with a prescription.
However, in the US, melatonin supplements can be purchased over the counter as a dietary supplement (even in child-friendly gummies) without a prescription and can be used as a sleep aid for people who have trouble falling and staying asleep.
Hartstein said, “If so many children are taking melatonin, that suggests there are a lot of underlying sleep problems that need to be addressed.” Addressing the symptom does not necessarily address the cause.”
The UC Boulder team found that typical days per week of melatonin use were highest among children ages one to four, five days per week. Children ages 10 to 13 reported consuming it three days a week.
The number of days per week of melatonin consumption was lower in children aged five to nine years: two.
The smallest percentage of parents who reported using melatonin was among children ages one to four: 5.6 percent.
The UC Boulder team found that typical days per week of melatonin use were highest among children ages one to four, five days per week.
Research has found melatonin supplements to be generally safe for short-term use. Mild side effects include headache, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness.
Some scientists have expressed concern that giving melatonin to young children whose brains and bodies are still growing could interfere with their development and the timing of the onset of puberty.
However, research on the long-term safety of melatonin use in children is lacking, and the few small studies that have been conducted on this topic have yielded inconsistent results.
Melatonin dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning the actual amount of melatonin in each pill is not monitored.
in a separate studio Since April, when analyzing 25 commercial supplements of the hormone, the actual amount of melatonin ranged from 74 to 347 percent of the labeled content.
Hartstein said, “Parents may not really know what they are giving their children when they give these supplements.”
Additionally, the increasing availability of the supplement in the form of gummies that look and taste like candy increases the risk of children accidentally ingesting the hormone at dangerous levels.
The authors noted that between 2012 and 2021, reports of melatonin ingestion to poison control centers increased by 530 percent, occurring primarily in children under five years old, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC).
More than 94 percent of cases were unintentional and 85 percent were asymptomatic.
Co-author Dr. Julie Boergers, a psychologist and pediatric sleep specialist, said that when used under a doctor’s supervision, melatonin may be useful as a short-term sleep aid, particularly in children with autism or severe sleep problems. dream.
And he added: “But it is almost never a first-line treatment.” Although it is normally well tolerated, we must be careful whenever we use any type of medication or supplement on a young, developing body.”
Dr. Boergers said she often recommends that families look for behavioral changes first and use melatonin only temporarily.