Chew on this.
One in five American children are given melatonin candies and tablets by their parents to put them to sleep — despite continued warnings against giving this popular natural sleep aid to children and teens without a prescription.
The rising numbers represent a shocking increase from just a few years ago, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently warned against giving sleep supplements to children under 13 years of age.
Melatonin is not yet fully regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. There have been recent reports that some brands of melatonin can contain up to 300% of a dose, depending on advertising, posing an even greater possible danger to children.
From 2012 to 2021, there was a 530% increase in the number of children consuming melatonin – 94% accidentally – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts believe that because melatonin is usually consumed in gummy form, children may be tricked into thinking it is candy.
“We hope this article will raise awareness among parents and clinicians and sound the alarm to the scientific community,” said the study’s lead author, Lauren Hartstein.
“We are not saying that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children. But there is still a lot of research to be done before we can say with certainty that long-term treatment is safe for children.
Melatonin – a prescription drug in other countries like the United Kingdom – has suddenly seen a sharp increase in consumption in the United States among children, according to Hartstein.
“All of a sudden, in 2022, we started noticing that many parents were telling us that their healthy child was taking melatonin regularly,” she said. “Parents may not actually know what they are giving their children when giving these supplements.”
In 2017, only about 1.3 percent of parents reported giving it to their children, according to the university, which noted that some scientists were concerned it could impact the timing of puberty.
In a recent University of Colorado study, nearly 20% of children ages 5 to 9 and 10 to 13 received this hormone. It was also found that 6% of preschoolers aged 1-4 years were also taking it.
Meanwhile, the FDA is exploring ways to make the supplement less like a snack.
“Although it is generally well tolerated, any time we use a drug or supplement in a young and developing body, we must exercise caution,” said Julie Boergers, co-author and pediatric sleep specialist.
She added that while this treatment may be effective in some cases in the short term, “it is almost never a first-line treatment.”
Boegers also said patients’ parents told him that children developed resistance to melatonin over time and needed higher doses.
Hartstein believes this data also sheds light on a larger problem.
“If so many children are taking melatonin, it suggests that there are many underlying sleep problems that need to be addressed,” she said. “Addressing the symptom does not necessarily address the cause.”