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New Advice on Melatonin Use in Children

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Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body's pineal gland. It regulates the sleep-wake cycle and helps promote sleep in both children and adults. In recent years, melatonin has become a popular over-the-counter supplement for children who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Although melatonin is generally considered safe, concerns have been raised about its long-term effects on children's health. Studies have shown that high dosages of melatonin can interfere with the body's natural production of the hormone and disrupt sleep patterns.

In response, new guidelines and recommendations have been released for the appropriate use of melatonin in children. These guidelines include advice on dosages, timing of administration, and potential side effects.

This article will delve into the latest advice on melatonin use in children and provide a comprehensive guide for parents and caregivers who are considering melatonin as a sleep aid for their children. By following these guidelines, parents can ensure that their child's use of melatonin is safe and effective.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body's pineal gland. It plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and promoting healthy sleep patterns in both children and adults. Melatonin levels are highest in the evening and throughout the night, and gradually decrease during the day.

For children, melatonin can be particularly important. Children's sleep patterns are often disrupted by a variety of factors, including stress, changes in routine, and exposure to electronic devices. Melatonin supplements can provide a safe and effective way to help children fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

Different forms of melatonin are available for children, including chewable tablets, liquids, and gummies. Some products may also include additional ingredients, such as chamomile or lavender, which are believed to have calming effects.

It is important for parents to understand the different forms of melatonin available, as well as the appropriate dosages for their child's age and weight. Too much melatonin can have the opposite effect and disrupt sleep patterns or cause other side effects.

Safety of Melatonin Use in Children

Melatonin supplements are generally considered safe for children when taken as directed, but there are some potential risks that parents should be aware of.

Potential Risks of Melatonin Use in Children

  • Allergic reactions: Children may have allergic reactions to ingredients in the melatonin supplement they are taking.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns: Melatonin supplements can have the opposite effect if taken in excessive amounts, resulting in disrupted sleep patterns or insomnia.
  • Daytime drowsiness: Taking melatonin too late in the morning can cause drowsiness and impact a child's ability to focus during the day.
  • Nausea and dizziness: Some children may experience nausea, dizziness, or headaches when taking melatonin supplements.

Recommendations for Safe Melatonin Usage in Children

  • Parents should consult with their pediatrician before giving melatonin supplements to their children, especially if their child has any preexisting medical conditions or is taking any medications.
  • It is important to use melatonin supplements as directed, and to stick to the recommended dosages based on a child's age and weight.
  • Parents should avoid giving children melatonin supplements on a long-term basis or regularly, as this may interfere with natural production of the hormone in the body.
  • Melatonin supplements should be administered approximately 30 minutes before bedtime, as this allows for the most effective absorption and helps induce drowsiness.

Medical Conditions that Could Affect Safety of Melatonin Use in Children

Some medical conditions may affect the safety of melatonin supplements for children, and parents should consult with their pediatrician if their child has any of the following:

  • Neurological disorders, including epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or other developmental disabilities
  • Hormone-related disorders, including diabetes, thyroid conditions, or pituitary gland disorders
  • Autoimmune disorders or allergies, as these may increase the risk of an allergic reaction to melatonin supplements

New Advice on Melatonin Use in Children

Appropriate Dosages Based on Age and Weight

The appropriate dosage of melatonin for children varies based on their age and weight. It is important to follow dosage instructions on the supplement label, but some general guidelines include:

  • For children 3-5 years old, the recommended dosage is 0.5mg
  • For children 6-12 years old, the recommended dosage is 1mg
  • For adolescents 13-18 years old, the recommended dosage is 2mg

Best Time to Administer Melatonin to Children

The best time to administer melatonin to children is approximately 30 minutes before bedtime. This allows for the most effective absorption and helps induce drowsiness. However, it is important to consider other factors that could impact the timing of melatonin administration, such as:

  • The child's natural sleep/wake cycle
  • The child's bedtime routine
  • The child's age and any medical conditions they may have

Other Recommendations for Safe Use of Melatonin in Children

Some additional recommendations for safe use of melatonin in children include:

  • Consulting with a pediatrician before giving melatonin supplements to a child
  • Avoiding long-term or regular use of melatonin, as this may interfere with natural production of the hormone in the body
  • Being aware of potential side effects and monitoring children for any adverse reactions
  • Ensuring that children are following good sleep hygiene practices, such as avoiding screens before bedtime, sleeping in a cool and dark environment, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule

Alternatives to Melatonin Use in Children

While melatonin can be effective in improving sleep patterns in children, there are also alternative approaches that can be considered. These alternatives can provide a more sustainable, long-term solution to sleep issues in children, without the potential risks associated with melatonin use. Some alternatives to melatonin use in children include:

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Children's Sleep Patterns

  • Establishing a regular bedtime routine that includes calming activities, such as reading or taking a warm bath before bedtime.
  • Limiting screen time before bedtime, as the blue light from screens can interfere with the production of melatonin.
  • Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, with wake-up times and bedtimes at the same time each day.
  • Creating a sleep-conducive environment by ensuring that the child's bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Encouraging regular physical activity during the day, as regular exercise can improve sleep quality and duration.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to treating sleep issues in children. CBT focuses on addressing problem behaviors and thought patterns that contribute to sleep issues and teaches children healthy sleep habits and coping skills. CBT can be particularly effective for children with anxiety or other conditions that impact sleep.

Other Natural Supplements and Therapies to Improve Sleep

There are a variety of natural supplements and therapies that can be used to promote healthy sleep patterns in children. Some of these include:

  • Valerian root: an herbal remedy that has been shown to improve sleep quality.
  • Chamomile tea: a natural sedative that can be effective in promoting relaxation and sleep.
  • Aromatherapy: the use of essential oils, such as lavender, to promote relaxation and sleep.
  • Mindfulness exercises: such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, can help children relax and fall asleep more easily.


As parents and caregivers, we want to ensure that our children are getting the best possible sleep to support their growth and development. While melatonin can be a helpful tool in improving sleep patterns in children, it is important to consider the potential risks and recommended dosages and seek medical advice before using melatonin. Here are some important takeaways:

  • Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
  • While it can be helpful in improving sleep patterns in children, there are potential risks associated with melatonin use, including dizziness, headaches, and nausea, among others.
  • New recommendations on melatonin use in children emphasize the importance of using appropriate dosages based on age and weight and administering it at the right time with medical advice.
  • Alternative approaches to improving children's sleep patterns include lifestyle changes, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and natural supplements and therapies.

If you are considering using melatonin to improve your child's sleep, it is important to consult with your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider first. They can help you determine if melatonin is appropriate for your child based on their medical history, current health, and individual needs. Your healthcare provider can provide guidance on proper dosing, timing, and potential risks, as well as alternative approaches to improving sleep patterns in children.

Improving your child's sleep patterns can be a challenging and ongoing process, but it is important for their overall health and well-being. Along with seeking medical advice if considering using melatonin, parents and caregivers can also take proactive steps to promote healthy sleep habits in children through lifestyle changes and other natural approaches.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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