1 in America 5 children are now taking melatonin despite the risks: experts
Chew on this.
One in five American children are given melatonin gummies and tablets by their parents to help them sleep — despite persistent warnings against giving the popular natural sleep aid to children and teens without a prescription.
The rising numbers represent a shocking increase from just a few years ago, according to new research conducted at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently warned against giving sleep supplements to children under 13 years of age.
Melatonin is not fully regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. There have been recent reports that some brands of melatonin may contain a dose of up to 300%, which poses a greater potential risk to children.
From 2012 to 2021, there was a 530% increase in children consuming melatonin — 94% accidentally — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts believe that because melatonin is usually taken in gummy form, children may be lured into thinking it is candy.
“We hope that this paper will raise awareness among parents and doctors, and sound the alarm to the scientific community,” said Lauren Hartstein, the study’s lead author.
“We are not saying that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children. But more research needs to be done before we can confidently say that it is safe for children to take it long-term.
Melatonin — a prescription drug in other countries such as the United Kingdom — has seen a sudden significant increase in use in the United States among children, according to Hartstein.
“Suddenly, in 2022, we started noticing a lot of parents telling us that their healthy child was taking melatonin regularly,” she said. “Parents may not actually know what they are giving their children when giving these supplements.”
In 2017, only about 1.3% of parents said they gave it to their children, according to the university, suggesting some scientists fear it could affect the timing of puberty.
In a recent study conducted by the University of Colorado, nearly 20% of children ages 5 to 9 and 10 to 13 years were given this hormone. It has also been found that 6% of preschool children aged 1 to 4 years also take it.
Meanwhile, the FDA is looking for ways to make supplements look less like a snack.
“Although it’s usually well tolerated, when we use any type of medication or supplement in a young, developing body, we want to be careful,” said co-author and pediatric sleep specialist Julie Borgers.
Although it can be effective in some short-term cases, it is hardly a first-line treatment, she added.
Boegers also said she has heard from parents of patients that children build resistance to melatonin over time and require higher doses.
Hartstein believes this data sheds light on a larger issue as well.
“If this many kids are taking melatonin, it suggests there are a lot of underlying sleep issues that need to be addressed,” she said. “Treating the symptoms does not necessarily treat the cause.”