Maintaining a regular sleep schedule for children is important to their ongoing growth and development as well as their everyday health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, sleep training and developing healthy sleep habits is easier said than done. Many parents turn to melatonin as a sleep aid for their kids and toddlers. Is melatonin safe for kids and toddlers? Learn more below.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the brain that is broadly responsible for maintaining your circadian rhythm, also known as your internal biological clock. Melatonin regulates when you sleep and wake up and its production is connected to light exposure.
Melatonin levels increase at night, signaling that it’s time to head to bed, and they decrease during the day, ensuring that you are awake and alert. Along with sleep and circadian rhythms, melatonin also has minor roles in regulating blood pressure, cortisol, and body temperature.1
Living at extreme latitudes, traveling, poor mood, and other issues can cause melatonin production to fluctuate, resulting in problems sleeping. Thankfully, additional melatonin can be taken as a supplement to help normalize sleeping patterns.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids and Toddlers?
Sleep disturbances and disorders are common in children and can contribute to ongoing sleep issues if left untreated. Many parents turn to melatonin as a sleep aid specifically because it is a naturally occurring hormone, but kids can be more sensitive to dietary supplements, including melatonin.
Pediatric sleep disorder studies have found that melatonin is a safe and effective treatment for pediatric insomnia, primary sleep disorders, and sleep disorders that come as a result of other neurological conditions. These studies suggest that melatonin supplementation is generally safe for children with little chance of overdose.2 Furthermore, as melatonin is a natural hormone, it is unlikely for children to become dependent on melatonin or experience habituation (diminished effect with repeated use).
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers looked at the effects of melatonin in children with autism spectrum disorders. The results of numerous studies found that melatonin administration was associated with improved sleep duration and quality, reduced night-time awakenings, improved behavior during the day, and minimal side effects.3
In a similar meta-analysis, researchers evaluated melatonin for managing sleep problems in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. The results of several studies showed that melatonin improved total sleep time and sleep onset latency compared to placebos. The studies also reported no serious adverse effects.4
Melatonin Dosage for Kids
The exact dosage for melatonin can vary based on your child’s needs, and further research is necessary to determine optimal dosage parameters. Most experts recommend dosages ranging from 1 mg to 5 mg per day for children.5
Dose: 5 mg or 0.05 mg/kg to 0.15 mg/kg of body weight at bedtime
Duration: For primary insomnia, up to 4 weeks in children 6 to 12 years old. For secondary insomnia, 6 mg to 9 mg, taken before bedtime for 4 weeks, has been used in children 3 to 12 years old.
Sleep-Wake Cycle Disturbances
Dose: 0.5 mg to 12 mg of melatonin daily
Duration: Up to 12 weeks in children and adolescents 3 months to 17 years-old
Sleep Onset Issues
Dose: 1 mg to 6 mg of melatonin before bed
Duration: Up to 1 month
Sleep Disorders in Blind Children
Dose: 0.5 mg to 4 mg of melatonin per day
Duration: Up to 6 years
Reducing Anxiety Prior to Surgery
Dose: 0.05 mg/kg to 0.5 mg/kg of body weight prior to surgery (for children 1 to 8 years old)
Potential Side Effects of Melatonin for Kids
As mentioned, melatonin is generally safe and should present minimal side effects. Some children may experience minor side effects following melatonin usage, including:
- Morning grogginess
- Stomach pains3
Melatonin may potentially increase the risk of seizures in children with existing neurological disorders, which is why you should consult your pediatrician before using melatonin supplements.3
While overdose is highly unlikely, melatonin’s effects can vary from child to child, which may cause parents to overcompensate and increase the dosage. Melatonin is not fatal on its own, but taking too much can cause your child to become sleepy or drowsy at inopportune times throughout the day.6
Maintaining Healthy Sleep
Generally, melatonin is reserved for children who have sleep issues related to neurodevelopmental disorders. While children with general sleep troubles can take melatonin safely, it is not a long-term solution. In other words, it is a band-aid treatment until the underlying cause of sleep disturbance is found and treated.
Along with or aside from melatonin supplements, supporting healthy sleep habits in your children should mainly center around good sleep hygiene.
Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine helps kids get into a calm mindset for sleep. A bedtime routine can start 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime and include brushing their teeth, washing up, and reading them a story or performing any other wind-down activity.
A Welcoming Bedroom
It can be hard for adults to sleep in a bedroom that feels uncomfortable, so you can expect the same from your kids. Make the bedroom a welcome, comfortable place to sleep. The bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet. Furthermore, try to make sure that your kids only use their beds for sleep. While the bed is an easy and cozy place for kids to do their homework and watch TV, this creates a psychological association with the bed as a place for play when it should only be associated with sleep.
Glowing screens emit blue light, which actively suppresses melatonin production. Using anything with a glowing screen, whether it’s a TV or a smartphone, too close to bedtime can make it much harder for your child to fall asleep. Try to keep your kids from using these devices at least one hour before bedtime. These devices should be kept out of the bedroom.
Melatonin use for kids and toddlers still requires further study, and it is by no means a long-term solution for sleep issues. If you think your child can benefit from a melatonin supplement, consult your doctor.