Nearly one in five elementary school-age children and preteens take melatonin, according to a recent Colorado study.
Additionally, some parents regularly give their preschoolers melatonin, according to the study published in a letter in the journal JAMA Pediatrics Monday (November 13).
These findings raise concerns because there is a lack of long-term data on the safety and effectiveness of melatonin in children, the study authors write. The study also suggests that the underlying causes of sleep problems in children taking melatonin often remain unaddressed.
Health care providers sometimes recommend melatonin as a short-term sleep aid in children with autism and severe sleep problems because this was specifically studied in this populationco-author of the study Julie Borgerspsychologist and pediatric sleep specialist at Rhode Island Hospital and Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University, said in a statement. statement.
“But it’s almost never first-line treatment,” she said. Families are generally advised to first try to resolve a child’s sleep problems with behavioral strategies. “Although (melatonin is) generally well tolerated, any time we use any type of medication or supplement in a young, developing body, we need to exercise caution,” she said.
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Melatonin Gummies, capsules, and liquids contain a synthetic version of a sleep-promoting hormone produced by the body. For this new research, scientists surveyed the parents of more than 990 children aged 1 to 13 about their children’s melatonin consumption. The survey was conducted between January and April 2023 and included parents from the area around Boulder and Denver, Colorado.
About 5.6% of preschoolers had consumed melatonin in the past month, compared to 18.5% of preschoolers and 19.4% of preteens. Typical doses of melatonin increased with age, from about 0.5 milligrams in the youngest group to 2 mg in the oldest, according to parent reports.
The number of days per week the children took melatonin varied, but most took the supplement either one day per week or seven days per week. Most children who had taken melatonin in the previous month had been taking the supplement regularly for much longer. For preschoolers, the median duration of melatonin consumption was 12 months, compared to 18 months for elementary school students and 21 months for preteens.
The study focused on a relatively small sample of people all from the same region and was conducted using surveys. There is therefore uncertainty as to whether the results apply elsewhere. However, this still raises some red flags.
Because they are considered “food supplements“, melatonin supplements are not as strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as prescription and over-the-counter medications. And many melatonin gummies sold in the United States are inaccurately labeled, containing 74% to 347% of the listed amount of melatonin, previous research found. Some products don’t actually contain any melatonin, while others do. CBDthe non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
And research has shown that as melatonin supplements have grown in popularity, there has been a increase in calls to poison control centers on children – especially those ages 5 and younger – who ingest large amounts of melatonin, with a small percentage experiencing serious toxic effects, such as respiratory failure or seizures.
Additionally, there is little data on how or if long-term use of melatonin might negatively affect children at different developmental stages, and scientists question whether this practice could impact hormones linked to puberty in children.
“We’re not saying that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children,” said the study’s lead author. Lauren Hartstein, a postdoctoral researcher in the Sleep and Development Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in the release. “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.”
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