The American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a health advisory last year, urging parents to exercise caution and consult a doctor before administering melatonin to their children.
Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain that regulates sleep cycles, has become a staple in many American households. Harvard Health notes it as one of the most common supplements given to children in the US.
Dietary Supplement Status
Unlike in several countries where melatonin is classified as a drug, in the US, it’s considered a dietary supplement and can be purchased without a prescription.
Jama Pediatrics Study
A recent study published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal sheds light on this trend.
Researchers spoke to parents of 993 children aged one to 14 and discovered a significant uptick in melatonin use, particularly among younger age groups. 18% of children aged five to nine now use melatonin as a regular sleep aid.
Study Reveals Patterns in Melatonin Consumption Across Age Groups
While melatonin can offer a short-term solution for sleep issues, the study uncovered a use pattern. Preschoolers were found to be taking the supplement for a median of 12 months, Elementary school children for 18 months, and pre-teens for 21 months.
Jama Pediatrics Acknowledges Limitations in Nationwide Representativeness
JAMA Pediatrics was quick to say that this study, while informative, may not fully represent nationwide trends due to its relatively small sample size.
Sleep Aid Trends
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, in an online survey conducted earlier this year, found that approximately 46% of parents have given melatonin to children under 13 to aid sleep.
Fathers were likelier than mothers to administer the supplement, and younger parents were more inclined to use it.
530% Surge in Reports of Melatonin Ingestion in Children From 2012 to 2021
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals a substantial 530% increase in reports of melatonin ingestion in children from 2012 to 2021.
Most cases were accidental; over 84% of the children involved showed no symptoms. However, 1% of reported cases led to children being admitted to intensive care.
Quality Control Issues
A 2017 study discovered discrepancies between the actual dose of melatonin in supplements and the amount stated on the packaging label.
Limited Understanding of Long-Term Effects of Melatonin on Children
This inconsistency poses a potential risk to children’s health, as the hormone’s effects remain largely uncharted territory, especially in the long term.
Mild Side Effects
Mild side effects such as daytime sleepiness, headache, nausea, and dizziness have been reported, but the long-term implications remain unclear.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine Recommends Treating Melatonin Like Medication
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine emphasizes the importance of treating melatonin as any other medication, recommending that parents keep it out of reach of children and consult with a pediatric health professional before use.
Health experts caution that addressing sleep problems in children may be better managed through changes in schedules, habits, or behaviors rather than relying on melatonin.
An Escalating Trend
As the trend of melatonin use among US children continues to escalate, experts and parents are calling for the need for thorough research, accurate labeling, and responsible administration.
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