BOULDER, Colo. — Parents routinely give their children, preteens and sometimes even preschoolers, the dietary supplement melatonin to help them sleep, new research from the University of Colorado Boulder shows.
The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics on November 13 and reveals that nearly one in five school-age children takes melatonin for sleep. The body naturally produces melatonin in the pineal gland and regulates the circadian rhythm, telling you when it is time to sleep.
Many countries consider melatonin a medication and it is only available with a prescription, but in the US, chemically synthesized or animal-derived melatonin is sold as an over-the-counter dietary supplement and is increasingly available in kid-friendly gummies.
“We hope this paper raises awareness among parents and doctors, and sounds the alarm for the scientific community,” said lead author Lauren Hartstein, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Sleep and Development Laboratory at CU Boulder. “We are not saying that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children. But much more research needs to be done before we can say with confidence that it is safe for children to take the drug long-term.”
In early 2023, the study surveyed about 1,000 parents to get an idea of how many children were receiving melatonin for sleep.
The researchers found that in the past 30 days, the following percentage of children had taken melatonin:
- Almost 20% of preteens ages 10 to 13
- 19% of children ages 5 to 9
- 6% of preschool children ages 1 to 4
The length of time the children used the supplement varied with age: younger preschoolers had taken it for a year, older elementary school children, and preteens between 18 and 21 months old.
The researchers also highlighted a study published in April that analyzed 25 gummy products and found varying amounts of melatonin that differed from what the label indicated. One of the products had more than triple the amount listed on the label and the other had no melatonin at all. Some of the supplements showed “substances of concern such as serotonin.”
“Parents may not really know what they are giving their children when they give these supplements,” Hartstein said.
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