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Experts issue health warning about giving melatonin to children


 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has issued a health advisory encouraging parents to talk to a health care professional before giving melatonin or any supplement to children.

“While melatonin can be useful in treating certain sleep-wake disorders, like jet lag, there is much less evidence it can help healthy children or adults fall asleep faster,” Muhammad Adeel Rishi, MD, MBBS, vice chair of the AASM public safety committee, said in a news release.

Spike in poisoning calls

Research previously published in JAMA suggests that the use of melatonin has increased over the past 2 decades among people of all ages.

With this increased use has come a spike in reports of melatonin overdose, calls to poison control centers, and related emergency department visits for children.

Federal data show that the number of U.S. children who unintentionally ingested melatonin supplements jumped 530% from 2012 to 2021.

More than 4,000 of the reported ingestions led to a hospital stay, and 287 children required intensive care.

The AASM notes that next to multivitamins, melatonin is the second most popular “natural” product parents give to their children.

Melatonin is widely available over the counter. It’s marketed as a sleep aid, but there is little evidence that taking it as a supplement is effective in treating insomnia in healthy children, the AASM cautions.

Because it is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a dietary supplement, melatonin receives less oversight. Research shows that the melatonin content in supplements can vary widely, the AASM points out.

In one study, amounts of melatonin ranged from less than one-half to more than four times the amounts stated on the labels. The greatest variability in melatonin content was in chewable tablets, which are most likely to be used for children.

“The availability of melatonin as gummies or chewable tablets makes it more tempting to give to children and more likely for them to overdose,” said Dr. Rishi, a pulmonology, sleep medicine, and critical care specialist at Indiana University Health Physicians, Indianapolis.

“Parents should talk directly with their child’s health care professional before giving their children melatonin products,” he added.

Keep out of reach

The AASM advises that melatonin be managed as any other medication and that it be kept out of reach of children.

Before giving melatonin or any supplement to their children, parents should discuss this decision with a pediatric health care professional.

If use of melatonin is warranted, health care professionals can recommend the appropriate dose and timing in addressing the sleep problem, and they can ensure that the melatonin product that is being used has a USP verified mark.

“Instead of turning to melatonin, parents should encourage children to develop good sleep habits, like setting a regular bedtime and wake time, having a bedtime routine, and limiting screen time as bedtime approaches,” Dr. Rishi said.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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