It’s estimated that up to 75% of school-aged children don’t get enough sleep ().
Unfortunately, poor sleep can affect a child’s mood and ability to pay attention and learn. It has also been linked to health issues such as childhood obesity (, , ).
This is why some parents consider giving their children melatonin, a hormone and popular sleep aid.
Though it’s considered safe for adults, you may wonder if your child can safely take melatonin.
This article explains whether kids can safely take melatonin supplements.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain’s pineal gland.
Often referred to as the sleep hormone, it helps your body get ready for bed by setting your internal clock, also called the circadian rhythm ().
Melatonin levels rise in the evening, which lets your body know it’s time to head to bed. Conversely, melatonin levels start to fall a few hours before it’s time to wake up.
Interestingly, this hormone plays a role in other functions besides sleep. It helps regulate your blood pressure, body temperature, cortisol levels and immune function (, , ).
In the US, melatonin is available over-the-counter at many drug and health food stores.
People take melatonin to cope with a variety of sleep-related issues, such as:
- Jet lag
- Sleep disorders related to mental health
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome
- Circadian rhythm disorders
However, in other parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand and many European countries, melatonin is only available with a prescription.
Summary Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall asleep by setting your internal clock. It’s available as an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the US, but only with a prescription in many other parts of the world.
Many parents wonder if melatonin supplements can help their child fall asleep.
There is good evidence that this may be the case.
This especially applies to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and other neurological conditions that can affect their ability to fall asleep (, , ).
For instance, an analysis of 35 studies in children with autism found that melatonin supplements helped them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer ().
Similarly, an analysis of 13 studies found that children with a neurological condition fell asleep 29 minutes faster and slept 48 minutes longer on average when taking melatonin ().
Similar effects have been observed in healthy kids and teenagers who struggle to fall asleep (, , ).
However, sleep problems are complex and can be caused by a variety of factors.
For instance, using light-emitting devices late at night can suppress melatonin production. If this is the case, simply limiting technology use before bed can help treat sleep issues ().
In other cases, an undiagnosed health condition may be why your child can’t fall or stay asleep.
Therefore, it’s best to seek advice from your doctor before giving your child a sleep supplement, as they can carry out a thorough investigation to get to the root of the problem.
Summary There is good evidence that melatonin can help kids fall asleep faster and sleep longer. However, it’s not recommended to give children melatonin supplements without seeing a doctor first.
Most studies show that short-term melatonin use is safe for kids with little to no side effects.
However, some children may experience symptoms such as nausea, headaches, bed wetting, excessive sweating, dizziness, morning grogginess, stomach pains and more ().
Currently, health professionals are unsure about the long-term side effects of melatonin, as little research has been done in that regard. Therefore, many doctors are wary to recommend melatonin for sleep issues in children.
Additionally, melatonin supplements are not approved for use in children by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Until long-term studies have been conducted, it’s impossible to say if melatonin is entirely safe for children ().
If your child struggles to fall asleep or stay asleep, it’s best to see your doctor.
Summary Most studies show that melatonin is safe with little to no side effects, but the long-term effects of melatonin supplements in kids are largely unknown, and melatonin supplements are not approved for use in children by the FDA.
Sometimes sleep issues can be resolved without using drugs or supplements like melatonin. That’s because often sleep problems are caused when children engage in activities that can keep them up late at night.
If your child struggles to fall asleep, consider these tips to help them fall asleep faster:
- Set a bedtime: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can train your child’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up around the same time (, ).
- Limit technology use before bed: Electronic devices like TVs and phones emit light that disrupts melatonin production. Preventing children from using them one to two hours before bed may help them fall asleep faster ().
- Help them relax: Excessive stress can promote alertness, so helping your child relax before bed may allow them to fall asleep faster ().
- Create a bedtime routine: Routines are great for younger children as it helps them relax so their body knows it’s time to head to bed ().
- Keep temperatures cool: Some kids find it hard to get a good night’s sleep when they’re too warm. Standard or slightly cool room temperatures are ideal.
- Get plenty of sunlight during the day: Getting plenty of sunlight during the day can help kids with sleep issues fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer ().
- Take a bath close to bedtime: Taking a bath around 90–120 minutes before bed can help your child relax and achieve deeper and better sleep quality (, ).
Summary There are plenty of natural ways to help your child fall asleep. These include setting a bedtime, limiting technology use before bed, creating a bedtime routine, getting plenty of sunlight during the day and helping them relax before bed.
Good sleep is crucial for a healthy life.
Most short-term studies show that melatonin is safe with little to no side effects and may help kids fall asleep faster and sleep longer.
However, its long-term use is not well studied in children. For this reason, it’s not advised to give your child melatonin unless instructed by your doctor.
In many cases, poor sleep can be caused by habits children have before bedtime, such as using light-emitting devices.
Limiting their use before bed can help kids get to sleep faster.
Other tips that aid sleep include setting a bedtime, helping kids relax before bed, creating a bedtime routine, ensuring their room is cool and getting plenty of sunlight during the day.