Melatonin and Children

(Excerpts from "Kids tucked in with a dose of melatonin", an article in USA Today newspaper, 2 March 2008)

Parents who have tried it say the pill has been nothing short of miraculous in getting their children to sleep. It's a trend that is occurring despite doctors' general reluctance to endorse melatonin as a sleeping aid for healthy children.

... "We have seen tremendous growth of the use of melatonin by parents," says Susan Zafarlotfi, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep- Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. "Melatonin is very useful for some teens who cannot get to sleep."

Zafarlotfi says occasional use of melatonin for children is fine as long as the dosage does not exceed 3 milligrams. She does not recommend giving it to kids younger than 10.

... Melatonin supplements have proved safe and effective in numerous studies for helping adults with jet lag. More than two dozen studies have shown that melatonin also helps children who have insomnia, and it has few or no side effects.

After reviewing numerous studies, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2005 concluded that melatonin supplements are safe if used for days or weeks

... Nonetheless, medical groups have been cautious to endorse melatonin for children because nearly all the studies of melatonin on children were tested on those who had autism or other development disabilities or were blind. These children are given supplements because their bodies either don't produce melatonin or do so only erratically. The studies on children have been small, and there are no reports on the long-term effects of melatonin in children.

... "This is not a treatment for the healthy child who just doesn't want to go to bed or the child with occasional trouble falling asleep," says Marcia Buck, clinical pharmacy specialist at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital in Charlottesville.

Melatonin is most beneficial for children who suffer brain injuries in which the brain no longer produces enough melatonin, she says.

Still, about 15% of pediatricians have recommended melatonin to help kids who have insomnia, according to a 2002 report in Pediatrics.

Factors to Consider First

Parents who consider melatonin for a child should first discuss this with the child's pediatrician, who can rule out medical reasons for insomnia, such as breathing difficulties or behavioral conditions such as attention-deficit disorder, Buck says.

Also, before giving a child melatonin, parents should try changing the child's behavior, such as by limiting television before bedtime, she says.

From Other Sources

"Children and pregnant or nursing women should not take melatonin dietary supplements without a health professional's approval." (WebMD®)

There is limited study of melatonin supplements in children, and safety is not established. Use of melatonin should be discussed with the child's physician prior to starting. (Mayo Clinic)

See also our evidences page and scan through for references on "children".

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