Six percent of children, or one in seventeen, take melatonin at least once per week, according to a new study. Melatonin is a hormone made in the brain that helps regulate daily sleep-wake cycles. Secreted by the pineal gland, this hormone sets the internal clock. Its production is affected the amount of light a person is exposed to each day.
Melatonin levels typically rise in the evening around sunset. In a person with healthy sleep cycles, they stay elevated for most of the night and drop around sunrise.
Melatonin is also available over the counter in a synthetic form. Some parents dose their children with melatonin in an effort to address sleep issues. However, many parents do not realize that the safety of this substance has not been confirmed.
A cross-sectional study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that approximately 6% of children — or one in 17 — are given melatonin for sleep problems. According to Henning Tiemeier, MD, PhD, a professor of social and behavioral science at Harvard University, not enough research has been done to say whether melatonin is safe. The full side effects are not currently known.
Tiemeier explains that . Instead, he says, parents need more education on sleep hygiene and normal sleep patterns.
Parents often do not realize how many factors play into good sleep. Kids need a regular bedtime preceded by a predictable bedtime routine. Screens should not be viewed two hours before bedtime, nor should a child consume any sugar, caffeine, or anything that contains red dye during that time.
Kids need a very dark room with minimal noise disruption in order to get good sleep. Following good sleep hygiene can make a substantial and lasting difference towards getting a restful night's sleep.
Taking melatonin will not solve things in the long term, although it is possible that it may help reset a child's internal clock when used temporarily. Regardless, we do not know if it safe.