Melatonin: Benefits Uses Side Effects And Dosage
Melatonin is a common dietary supplement that has gained widespread popularity around the globe.
Though renowned as a natural sleep aid, it also has powerful effects on other aspects of your health.
This article reviews the benefits and potential side effects of melatonin, as well as its best dosage.
Its primarily responsible for regulating your bodys circadian rhythm to manage your natural sleep cycle .
Therefore, its often used as a sleep aid to combat issues like insomnia.
Its widely available in the US and Australia as an over-the-counter medication but requires a prescription in other parts of the world, such as Europe.
In addition to improving sleep, melatonin is also involved in managing immune function, blood pressure and cortisol levels .
Plus, it acts as an antioxidant, with some research finding that it can significantly affect many health conditions.
In fact, studies show that melatonin may improve eye health, reduce symptoms of seasonal depression and even provide relief from acid reflux .
Melatonin is a hormone responsible for regulating your bodys sleep cycle. Its also associated with other health benefits.
Can Support Better Sleep
Melatonin is often called the sleep hormone and for good reason.
Its one of the most popular sleep aids and a common natural remedy to treat issues like insomnia.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that melatonin can support better sleep.
One study in 50 people with insomnia showed that taking melatonin two hours before bed helped people fall asleep faster and enhanced overall sleep quality .
Another large analysis of 19 studies in children and adults with sleep disorders found that melatonin reduced the amount of time it took to fall asleep, increased total sleep time and improved sleep quality .
However, though melatonin is associated with fewer side effects than other sleep medications, it may be less effective .
Studies show that melatonin can lengthen total sleep time, shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and enhance sleep quality in children and adults.
This type of depression is related to changes in the seasons and occurs each year around the same time, with symptoms typically appearing in late fall to early winter.
Some research indicates that it could be linked to changes in your circadian rhythm caused by seasonal light changes .
Because melatonin plays a role in regulating circadian rhythm, low doses are often used to decrease symptoms of seasonal depression.
However, other research is still inconclusive on the effects of melatonin on seasonal depression.
How Do Babies Produce Melatonin
During pregnancy, a babys circadian rhythm is largely determined by the mothers activity levels. When the mother is active, the babys heart and respiratory rates will speed up and when the mother is resting or sleeping, they will slow down again. Maternal melatonin also passes through the placenta, which helps babies to sleep when their mother is sleeping.
After birth this placental connection is broken, however, melatonin can still be passed on to babies through breast milk. The babys pineal gland will also be activated immediately after birth, meaning they will start to produce their own melatonin. Unfortunately, melatonin is only released in extremely small amounts to start with but this will increase with age.
In addition to producing their own melatonin, babies will also start to develop their own circadian rhythms post-birth. Initially, their sleep patterns can be quite erratic and some newborn babies will also experience day/night confusion. Somewhere between 8-16 weeks of age their circadian rhythms will mature and they will start to fall into more predictable sleep patterns.
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Safe Amount Of Melatonin For Babies
The amount of melatonin for babies depends on the age, weight, medical conditions, and symptoms the baby is experiencing. Your babys pediatrician will consider all of these factors, and then prescribe or suggest an amount that will be safe and effective for your baby.
Just like with every other medication or supplement, you have to be very careful to follow the correct dosage, as an overdose might result in serious harm to your baby. A pediatrician should always determine the amount of melatonin that helps babies sleep.
You May Not Be Able To Trust The Products
Even though supplements are widely available, remember that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements like it does prescription medications. That means you may not know exactly what youre getting when you buy an over-the-counter product.
One study of 31 products found that almost three-quarters contained melatonin content at least 10% greater or lower than claimed on the label. Sometimes the melatonin content was as high as 478% above the label. About a quarter of products also contained the mood-altering hormone serotonin.
Its important to recognize that melatonin is not regulated by the FDA, Paruthi said. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the melatonin you find between brands, between bottles, or between tablets/liquid is equivalent.
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What Is Melatonin And What Does It Do
Melatonin is a hormone our brains naturally make when it becomes dark outside. For kids, melatonin starts being released between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., with production continuing until it becomes light the next day. According to Dr. Benjamin Levinson, primary care physician at Nationwide Childrens Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, melatonin helps us feel sleepy at night and assists in regulating the daily sleep-wake cycle.
Of course, as most parents and caregivers know, the mere presence of the hormone doesnt magically make kids fall asleep when its time to shut the lights. A number of factors unrelated to melatonin affect childrens sleep sleep onset associations and inconsistent routines being among the most common. But more directly, being exposed to blue light from phones and tablets can interfere with melatonin production.
Parents Are Using Melatonin To Help Their Children Sleep Here An Expert Weighs In On Whether These Over
Emily Elveru is the Staff Health Editor at Parents, where she covers kids’ and women’s health, parenting advice, and the occasional lifestyle story. When she isn’t working from home, she enjoys taking long, slow walks around her Brooklyn neighborhood, browsing a local bookstore, or diving into a new craft project.
Kids need plenty of shut-eye to fuel their growth and development but 15% to 25% of young people have trouble falling and staying asleep, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics . Lack of sleep has plenty of negative consequences, ranging from difficulty concentrating to obesity to crankiness. That’s why some parents are tempted to give their children a sleep supplement like melatonin during restless nights.
You may have seen a 2022 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reported a 530% increase in melatonin overdoses in kids between 2012 and 2021. It also announced 260,435 pediatric melatonin overdoses during the past decade . Additionally, there were 4,000 hospitalizations, 300 ICU cases , and two deaths related to melatonin.
Of course, this raises an important question: Is melatonin OK for kids? The truth is that low doses can be safe for children, but researchers don’t yet understand the long-term effects. If you use melatonin, it’s important to follow appropriate dosing directions and store the supplement out of the reach of childrenpreferably in childproof cabinets or containers.
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How Much Melatonin Should I Give My Child
Melatonin dosage is a question to discuss with your pediatrician. In general, children don’t need a high dose. Sometimes, doses as low as .5 milligrams are enough. You should talk to your child’s doctor about their specific needs. Your doctor will want to rule out serious health problems before recommending melatonin.
Your pediatrician can also help you decide what time to give your child melatonin. It’s usually best to give it to your child about 90 minutes before bedtime, but you and your doctor can decide what will work best for your family.
Ask your doctor what brand of melatonin to buy. The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements like melatonin, so the quality can vary. Your doctor can suggest a trustworthy brand that has chewable tablets or gummies that are easy for kids to take.
How Melatonin Helps Babies Sleep
For babies who have trouble sleeping, it is sometimes determined that their natural melatonin levels are lower than they should be. Of course, this poses a problem when it is time to sleep, and it will need to be addressed in some way. If you choose to go the route of a melatonin supplement, you will find that the supplement encourages normal sleep cycles by normalizing the melatonin levels in your babys body.
Eventually, it is predicted that the melatonin supplement will help your babys natural sleep cycles regulate. In the meantime, melatonin for babies should be given about 30 minutes before its time to sleep.
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How Much Melatonin Can A Child Take
When using melatonin for kids, its best to start small, and if need be, work up to a higher dose. I usually advise people to start at low doses of 0.5 milligrams or 1 milligrams and give it about 90 minutes before bedtime, DeBlasio says. For some children, these low doses may be all that is needed. Other kids will require higher doses. However, most children dont need more than 3 to 6 milligrams. He adds, It is important to involve your pediatrician in decisions about melatonin dosing.
Levinson says that the general recommended dosage utilized in studies of children is between 0.5-6 milligrams nightly. Again, though, melatonin isnt regulated by the FDA, which can make dosage tricky. Research has shown that the stated amount of melatonin in a supplement can be off by over 400%, and other compounds, such as serotonin, can be included, Levinson says. The dosage variability can even be very high when the same brand is purchased on separate occasions. Families should always check with their childs pediatrician before giving melatonin to their child.
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Safe Alternatives To Melatonin For Children
The most important thing parents can do to help a child sleep better is to establish a consistent bedtime routine. Sticking with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times and a set routine before bed can help a child feel secure and comfortable, which typically leads to better sleep. In addition, try some of the following tips.
Before You Give A Child Melatonin Talk To Their Doctor First
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents try melatonin supplements for their children only after talking with a pediatrician. That way, they can investigate whether the child has a medical disorder thats interfering with sleep.
Melatonin may not be the right approach for some underlying sleep problems like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, said Dr. Kori Flower, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
And it may not be right if the insomnia is caused by an infection or identifiable anxiety, like a looming test at school.
Melatonin Dosage For Children
Short-term use of melatonin in small doses appears to be safe and well-tolerated by most children. The effective dosage for children ranges from 0.05 milligrams per kilogram to 5 milligrams of melatonin. When children experience side effects from taking melatonin, theyre typically mild and may include:
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Melatonin Could Help Kids With Adhd And Autism
Kids with attention disorders and autism commonly develop sleep problems that can be helped with melatonin. Additionally, medication used to treat ADHD can lead to difficulty falling asleep. That was the case for Jackie Botman,* whose son has ADHD. The eight-year-olds medication was keeping him up until 9:30 or laterhe was wired and couldnt settle down. He was resistant to calming down and having quiet time. He became chronically tired, says Botman, who lives in Toronto. Now her son takes a 5 mg dose of melatonin when hes brushing his teeth, then gets into bed and falls asleep in a reasonable amount of time.
Although Cummings agrees that melatonin can help kids with ADHD or autism, he says the downside is that theres a high relapse rate: Once you take your kid off melatonin, they are almost guaranteed to go back to having difficulty sleeping. It sets up a situation where those kids, to function well in life and in school, may need to use the melatonin on a longer-term basis, says Cummings.
What If My Child Accidentally Ingests Melatonin Or Deliberately Overdoses
The CDC study found a surge in reports of pediatric melatonin ingestions to poison control centers over the past decade, in keeping with skyrocketing melatonin sales. Most ingestions were accidental and involved children under age 5 many melatonin products are sold as gummies and are easy to mistake for candy. But there has also been an increase in intentional overdoses of melatonin by adolescents as a means of self-harm.
Most but not all of these ingestions are relatively harmless. In the CDC study, about 80 percent of children had no symptoms the main symptoms seen were drowsiness, upset stomachs, vomiting, and headaches. Of more than 260,000 ingestions in the 10-year period, about 4,000 children were hospitalized, and a handful needed to be put on ventilators. Most of those hospitalized were teenagers whose ingestions were deliberate. Two children died.
If youre concerned about your child accidentally ingesting melatonin, or deliberately overdosing on melatonin,
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Side Effects Of Melatonin In Children
When starting any new vitamin, supplement, or medication, it is important to weigh the risks beforehand. Although more studies need to evaluate risks of taking melatonin long-term, reported side effects in children and adolescents include:
- Increased bedwetting
- Mood swings
Because melatonin is a hormone, some health professionals have suggested that taking it as a supplement could interfere with a childs development. However, several studies have shown no adverse effects in reproductive function or child development.
Melatonin may also interact and interfere with other herbs, supplements, and certain medications. A childs doctor should be aware of any supplements or medications the child is currently taking before they start melatonin.
First Off When Should You Use Melatonin With Your Toddler
This is where parents get a little confused. If your child can fall asleep on their own about 30 minutes after you put them to bed, melatonin may not be necessary! The natural sleep aid can be very helpful, however, if your child has a sleep dysfunction. For instance, if they cant fall asleepand lie awake for hours, or fall asleep and then wake several times during the night.
It can also be very helpful for kids on the autism spectrum, or those whove been diagnosed with ADHD. Kids with these disorders are well-known to have a lot of trouble falling asleep, and studies have shown melatonin to be effective in shortening the time it takes them to fall asleep.
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When To See A Pediatrician For Sleep Disorders In Children
If youve established a good bedtime routine and instilled good sleep habits, and your child is still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you should consider talking to your childs healthcare provider about it.
Its better to see a doctor if the kids sleep issues are persistent, says Dr. Hsu. Other alarming signs might involve changes in breathing during sleep, nightmares, night terrors, persistent bed wettings, decreased daytime performance, trouble staying awake during the day, slackness, etc.
A pediatrician or sleep expert can help diagnose and treat any underlying health issues that might be the cause of your childs sleep problems. Many conditions can lead to sleep issues, including these common problems.
How Does It Work
Besides helping to set the circadian clock, Melatonin also helps reduce the body temperature, which is another signal to the brain that it is time for sleep. Contrary to popular belief, it does not cause drowsiness. Melatonin has been used successfully for a number of children with sleep problems associated with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, epilepsy and migraine headaches.
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Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome And Melatonin
Delayed sleep phase syndrome is a common disorder in teens, where their natural sleep period is shifted significantly later than the schedule which their commitments mandates. Thus, teens with this disorder an unable to fall asleep by 12 AM in the morning or even later. I have seen kids who are routinely falling asleep between 45 AM. Melatonin has a clear role in this disorder, as small doses 34 hours earlier than sleep onset can be effective in managing this disorder. The reason for the delay is a marked delay in the DLMO, so melatonin dosing can move sleep periods earlier. For children with DSPS, giving a dose 46 hours prior to the current time of sleep onset, then moving it earlier every 45 days, is recommended, with low dose preparations. Of all the conditions mentioned here, this has the clearest benefit from melatonin. Here is a terrific review article.
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Other Sleep Aids For Children
Talk to your pediatrician before trying any over-the-counter sleep aids for children, including melatonin. Not all sleep aids do what they claim to do, and some can have adverse side effects. The following are sleep aids sometimes recommended for some children:
- Diphenhydramine: Sold as Benadryl, Aleve PM, and other brands, this sedating antihistamine is often used to help kids sleep, but its not usually recommended by doctors as a sleep aid. Potential side effects include daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, and urinary retention.
- Doxylamine succinate: Sold as Unisom and other brands, this is another sedating antihistamine, with side effects similar to diphenhydramine. Doxylamine succinate should not be used to treat insomnia in children under 12.
- Valerian: Made from the root of a tall, flowering grassland plant, valerian supplements may help children fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep. As with melatonin, however, few long-term studies on valerians effects have been done, and there is no standard recommended dosage. Mild side effects may occur, including headache, dizziness, stomach problems, or sleeplessness.
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