Nearly half of parents in the United States have given melatonin, a sleep supplement, to their children under 13.
a survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) found that 46 percent of parents have given melatonin to their children under 13 at least once.
Researchers have said that parents think that melatonin is harmless because it is a hormone that the body produces naturally.
But supplements are not regulated by government agencies, often contain much higher doses than the labels say, and could cause side effects, poisoning, and even dementia.
A survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) found that nearly half of American parents have given melatonin to their children under 13 at least once.
Meanwhile, the survey also found that 30 percent of parents have given it to teenagers over 13.
The AASM conducted the survey online and distributed it to 2,005 American adults between March 24 and 29, 2023. Of them, 1,003 had at least one child under the age of 18 living with them.
Fathers are more likely than mothers to give melatonin to their children and adolescents, and fathers between 25 and 34 years old are the age group most likely to give it to children under 13 years old.
Melatonin is a hormone that controls how people feel when asleep or awake.
The hormone is produced in the pineal gland of the brain and its release into the body is controlled by light.
During the day, when the eye absorbs light, melatonin levels in the body are low and as a result, we feel awake.
But when darkness sets in and the amount of light absorbed by the eye is reduced (although this is altered in modern societies due to artificial light), more melatonin circulates through the body.
Melatonin prepares the body for sleep by slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and changing the way heat is stored in the body: the body’s core temperature drops while the outside of the body and extremities warm up.
The hormone also makes people feel sleepy.
Last year, a joint research team representing the Mayo Clinic and Peking University found that the number of Americans taking the drug quadrupled between 2009 and 2018.
Federal reports also found that sales increased from $285 million in 2016 to $821 million in 2020.
The number of Americans using melatonin quadrupled between 2009 and 2018, according to one study, and more than 2% of respondents used the medication in 2017 or 2018.
Reported pediatric melatonin intakes for poison control in the US between 2012 and 2021
The supplement is also ubiquitous. You can buy a bottle of 30 pills at almost any pharmacy for as little as $10. But it may be more powerful than the labels suggest.
Earlier this year, a study found that nine out of 10 supplements purchased in stores were incorrectly labeled. One melatonin supplement, for example, contained 347 percent (4.5 times) of the listed hormone, while another contained no melatonin at all and was made from CBD instead.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of children hospitalized after ingesting melatonin increased 530 percent between 2012 and 2021.
Melatonin accounted for nearly five percent of all pediatric poisoning cases in 2021, compared to 0.6 percent in 2012. It was the most frequently ingested substance among children reported to national poison control centers.
While the vast majority of cases reported to poison control were asymptomatic, about 84 percent, the most severe symptoms affected the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular or central nervous system.
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 poisoning, and when your child starts slurring his speech, it’s time to go to the emergency department.
There is no solid research on the long-term effects of melatonin. However, experts fear that regular use of the drug could have some negative side effects, and could even potentially increase a person’s risk of developing dementia in old age, according to a study published in JAMA.
Researchers warned that Americans who self-medicate with high doses over a long period of time risk short-term side effects such as fatigue, dizziness, headaches and more serious long-term health consequences, especially if taken with other medications.
They also said the increase is “a crazy situation that has gotten out of control.”
Melatonin is considered a supplement, meaning it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
‘It’s a bit alarming; “Just because the product is available without a prescription does not mean that it is completely harmless and does not have important physiological effects,” Dr. Naima Covassin, of the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Science in Rochester, Minnesota, told JAMA.