A recent study conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder has shed light on a concerning trend among children and preteens – the increasing use of melatonin as a sleep aid. This phenomenon has raised questions about safety, efficacy, and potential long-term health consequences. In this article, we delve into the key findings of the study and the implications for both parents and healthcare providers.
Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the pineal gland, plays a vital role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, signaling the time for sleep. In many countries, melatonin is classified as a prescription-only drug. However, in the United States, chemically synthesized or animal-derived melatonin is readily available over the counter, even in child-friendly gummy form.
The study, conducted by Lauren Hartstein, PhD, and her colleagues, highlights a notable shift in melatonin usage among children. During 2017-18, only 1.3% of U.S. parents reported their children using melatonin. However, in the first half of 2023, the survey of approximately 1,000 parents revealed a substantial increase. Among children aged 5 to 9, 18.5% had been given melatonin in the previous month, while preteens aged 10 to 13 showed a usage rate of 19.4%. Alarmingly, nearly 6% of preschoolers aged 1 to 4 had used melatonin within the same timeframe.
The duration of melatonin use also raised concerns. Preschoolers had been taking it for a median length of a year, while grade-schoolers and preteens had used it for median durations of 18 and 21 months, respectively. Furthermore, the older the child, the higher the dosage, with preschoolers taking doses ranging from 0.25 to 2 mg and preteens consuming up to 10 mg.
One significant risk associated with melatonin supplements is mislabeling. A separate study found that 22 out of 25 melatonin gummy products contained varying amounts of melatonin compared to what was indicated on the label. Some even contained substances like serotonin, further emphasizing the uncertainty of what parents are administering to their children.
Another potential concern is the influence of melatonin on the timing of puberty onset in young people. Limited studies have produced inconsistent results in this regard, suggesting the need for further research.
Gummies, which resemble and taste like candy, pose an additional risk, leading to a 530% increase in reports of melatonin ingestion to poison control centers from 2012 to 2021, primarily among children under the age of 5. More than 94% of these cases were unintentional, with 85% being asymptomatic.
Dr. Julie Boergers, a co-author of the study and a pediatric sleep specialist, acknowledges that melatonin can be a useful short-term aid, especially for children with autism or severe sleep problems, when used under the guidance of a healthcare provider. However, she emphasizes that it should rarely be the first-line treatment. Behavioral changes should be explored initially, with melatonin considered a temporary solution.
The study’s limitations include its relatively small sample size, which may not fully represent nationwide melatonin usage trends. Nevertheless, the findings signal a substantial need for addressing underlying sleep issues in children rather than merely addressing the symptoms.
In conclusion, the escalating use of melatonin among youth raises significant concerns about its safety, efficacy, and long-term effects. Parents and healthcare providers must exercise caution when considering melatonin as a sleep aid for children, exploring alternative solutions and seeking professional guidance to ensure the well-being of the young individuals in their care.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Melatonin Usage in Children
What is melatonin, and why are children using it for sleep?
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the pineal gland to regulate sleep patterns. Children are using it as a sleep aid.
What are the concerns associated with melatonin use in children?
Concerns include limited safety data, mislabeling of supplements, potential effects on puberty, and the risk of unintentional ingestion, especially with melatonin gummies.
How has melatonin usage among children changed over the years?
Usage has increased significantly, with a notable rise in children aged 5 to 13 using melatonin as a sleep aid, even among preschoolers.
What are the recommended precautions for parents and healthcare providers?
Parents should exercise caution, consider behavioral solutions first, and use melatonin under healthcare guidance for specific cases. Providers should educate and monitor usage.
What does the study’s limited sample size mean for its findings?
The study’s relatively small sample may not fully represent nationwide trends in melatonin usage among children but still highlights a concerning pattern.
What message does the increased melatonin use send to children?
Introducing melatonin early may inadvertently suggest that a pill is the solution to sleep issues, potentially discouraging addressing the root causes.
More about Melatonin Usage in Children
- JAMA Pediatrics – Characteristics of Melatonin Use Among US Children and Adolescents
- University of Colorado Boulder – Press Release