Since 2000, melatonin use has increased four-fold among Americans.1 This either means insomnia is increasingly becoming a problem or we’re increasingly becoming more dependent on using supplements as the answer. We’re not just talking about adults either. A poll by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that 36 percent of teens ages 13-18 use herbal remedies and supplements like melatonin to sleep.2 And gummies containing melatonin are even available for kids as young as three.
Though melatonin is considered generally safe for short-term use, there are side effects parents should know about before resorting to using this supplement. Read on to find out why you should take precautions.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that plays a key role in our natural sleep-wake cycle. It is produced by the brain in response to darkness, which means it amps up at night and declines in the morning hours. Being exposed to unnatural light at night can also hinder melatonin production, which is why screen time is often discouraged in the evening hours.
Melatonin supplements come in tablets or liquid form. They can either be synthetic or derived from animals. People take melatonin supplements for a number of reasons including insomnia, jet lag, shift work disorder, sleep disorders in children, and sleep disorders in the blind.
Though considered generally safe, here are some reasons why melatonin may not be the best choice for children:
1. It’s Not Regulated
In many countries, melatonin is only available with a prescription and is considered a drug. Since melatonin is considered a dietary supplement in the U.S., it’s regulated less strictly by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) than prescription medication. Because of this loose regulation, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that some melatonin supplements may not contain what’s listed on the product label. In fact, a 2017 study that tested 31 different melatonin supplements found that most of the supplements did not contain the amount of melatonin listed on the product label. And 26 percent of the supplements contained serotonin, a hormone that can have harmful effects on young users.3
2. It’s Not a Long-Term Solution
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institutes of Health, children should not take melatonin long-term.4 Not only are studies on long-term use scarce, but excessive melatonin use may actually mask an underlying problem that could be causing insomnia in your child, like anxiety or an attention disorder. Another challenge with using melatonin long-term is that some individuals report that the supplement stops working after a while, potentially leading users to seek out other sleep aids which may be habit-forming.5 Some researchers have also speculated about melatonin’s connection with delayed puberty, though more studies are needed on this topic.6
3. There Could be Uncomfortable Side Effects
Studies show that melatonin can have the following side effects in children:7
- Morning drowsiness
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
Less common side effects listed on the Mayo Clinic website include depressed feelings, mild tremor, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, reduced alertness, confusion, and disorientation.8
No harmful side effects.
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4. There Could be Dangerous Interactions
Children taking prescription medications for other conditions may experience negative interactions with melatonin supplementation. These interactions include:9
- Increased risk of bleeding when combined with anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs
- Increased frequency of seizures in children taking anticonvulsants
- Excessive sedation when combined with central nervous system depressants or medication for OCD like Fluvoxamine
- An imbalance in sugar levels in patients with diabetes
- Reduced effects of antidepressant drugs10
5. Reliance Could Occur
There are no reported incidences of addiction or withdrawal symptoms when it comes to melatonin. But according to Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M., most people’s body’s produce enough of the hormone for them to sleep naturally. There are many ways to work with melatonin’s sleep signals without becoming reliant on supplementation, such as spending time outdoors or sitting by a sunny window during the day and minimizing screen time before bedtime. If you do resort to using a melatonin supplement, he says it should only be taken on a regular basis for a maximum of two months. And if it doesn’t help after a week or two, stop using it.11
Additional Alternatives to Sleep Aids
There are a number of steps you can take at home to help your child sleep better without melatonin supplements. The Sleep Foundation recommends bettering your child’s sleep hygiene before giving them sleep aids, which refers to a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep.12 Some ways to improve your child’s sleep hygiene include ensuring they are waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day, making your child’s bedroom comfortable, dark, and free of screens, and helping them to follow a relaxing pre-bedtime routine. Ensuring your child is getting enough exercise during the day and following a healthy diet is also important, which entails minimizing their sugar and caffeine intake.
Speaking of diet, there are a variety of foods that contain melatonin and could be helpful as part of your child’s diet. These foods include milk, pistachio nuts, fatty fish, oats, and tart cherries.13 Find more healthy diet suggestions for sleep here.
If your child suffers from anxiety, ADHD, ADD, or other symptoms that can negatively affect sleep, there are many ways to enlist professional help. This may involve hiring a therapist or counselor or trying medication. At Brillia, we encourage parents to try gentle approaches first before resorting to prescription drugs, which may have worse side effects than those associated with melatonin. One such option is Brillia, a non-prescription homeopathic medication that does not contain any harsh, synthetic chemicals and is not linked to any harmful side effects. Brillia uses targeted antibodies to the S100B protein, which plays a crucial role in mood regulation, and is designed to stop the instigation of anxious feelings altogether without affecting any other systems in the body or dangerously interacting with any other medications your child may be taking. The medication also relies on a holistic approach, working in tandem with healthy lifestyle factors like healthy nutrition, limited screen time, mindfulness practices, and adequate sleep to equip your child with helpful resources to address their anxiety for long-term success.
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