How Safe Is Melatonin For Children?

Is there a specific melatonin for children? Because my 9-year-old seems to be having problems with sleeping. I know she is still up hours after I send her to bed because I can hear her fumbling around. And when I go over to check, she pretends to sleep, and she is very grumpy each morning when I try to wake her up for school. I am wondering if it would be safe to give her melatonin supplements and what the appropriate dose would be.

Melatonin is a human hormone produced by the pineal gland. It is a powerful antioxidant and plays an important role in the regulation of the sleep/wake cycle. Synthetic versions of melatonin are now sold over the counter as diet supplements for the management of sleep disturbances and for several other purposes including cancer treatment. Melatonin is well-tolerated among adult users with very few cases of adverse reactions and with no reports of life threatening side effects so far.

Several studies have been conducted from the early 90s to the present to determine whether melatonin for children would bring about favorable results in the treatment of childhood sleep disorders. Sleep disturbances are relatively prevalent among school-age children. The most common sleep disorders in children are usually associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), visual impairment, and neurologic injury.

Studies showed that administration of melatonin to children suffering from sleep disturbances resulted in earlier sleep onset, fewer nighttime awakenings, increased sleep duration and improved daytime behavior. About 90% of all subjects exhibited positive results and very few cases of adverse reactions were reported.

The side effects commonly observed among the study group include headache, drowsiness, increased heart palpitations, decreased body temperature and depression. The doses employed varied from 0.5 mg to 20 mg depending on the age of the child and the severity of the sleep disorder. But the most common doses ranged from 2 mg to 5 mg and were administered in the evening about an hour before bedtime.

However, these studies were not enough to provide adequate evidence that melatonin for children really does work and safe for long term use. In fact, melatonin has been found to worsen the symptoms of asthma and could even result to seizures. It is also not advisable for children with autoimmune disorders. The studies were conducted on a limited number of subjects with neurodevelopmental illnesses wherein melatonin deficiency could be an issue, so it wouldn’t be surprising that the results were overwhelming.

Currently, there is no specific melatonin for children. Its effective dose has not yet been determined and further randomized studies are yet to be conducted to ensure its efficacy and safety. However, in cases wherein traditional management has failed to improve sleep, this could be a good adjunct therapy especially among children suffering from neurodevelopmental disabilities.

But parents should bear in mind that melatonin is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and saying that, you might want to think twice about giving the next dose to your kid. There is no such thing as “melatonin for children” as of yet. And since we are talking about safety, let me just add that synthetic forms of melatonin could be a little safer than bovine-derived ones, but still that does not make it advisable for use in children.

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