Health & Science

New melatonin guidelines address child safety issues — here’s what parents need to know

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The Council for Responsible Nutrition recently recommended new guidelines for melatonin products in order to make them safer for children. The recommendations include child-proofing packaging as well as new warning labels aimed at reducing misuse of the supplement.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that regulates our circadian rhythms. Melatonin is naturally produced in response to darkness, which is why most people get tired at night time. Synthetic melatonin supplements are meant to increase the amount of the hormone in the body to trigger sleepiness.

Melatonin is typically available over the counter, and can even come in flavored and gummy forms. The new guidelines are also strongly recommending that manufacturers stop producing flavored versions of the supplement in order to deter children from ingesting them because they look like vitamins or candy.

Melatonin supplements aren’t regulated to the same extent as other medications, and may contain unlisted ingredients or more of the melatonin hormone than is printed on the label. Because of this, it’s best to only take when absolutely necessary, and defer to your pediatrician on the safest dosage.

Is melatonin safe for kids?

Melatonin use has skyrocketed in recent years, with more parents than ever using the supplement regularly as a sleep aid for their kids. In fact, a recent study shows that nearly one out of every five school-age children and teens are now using melatonin on a regular basis.

With this increased use has come more cases of accidental ingestion or overdose, with 11,000 infants and young children visiting the emergency room after accidentally ingesting or overdosing on melatonin in recent years.

While many pediatricians agree that melatonin is safe for kids in small doses, they strongly urge parents to consult their own pediatrician before giving any of the medication to children. Kids often take much more than they need, and there isn’t yet a lot of research on the long-term side effects of extensive melatonin use in children.

Doctors also agree that melatonin should not be taken on a regular basis, and should only be used occasionally when needed. Otherwise, parents should emphasize sleep hygiene as a first step when dealing with kids’ sleep issues. Here are a few recommendations for good sleep hygiene:

  • Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime;
  • Use blackout shades and white noise machines or earplugs; 
  • Don’t let kids stay up more than an hour or two past their normal bedtime on weekends and vacations.

Signs of melatonin overdose

The number of children overdosing on melatonin rose by more than 500 percent between 2012 and 2021. Hospitalizations also went up, and two children died during that time. If you keep melatonin in your home, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs of overdose, just in case.

Signs of a melatonin overdose include:

  • Severe headaches 
  • Dizziness 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Bedwetting

If you suspect your child has taken too much melatonin, take them to the emergency room or call 911 immediately.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.