Melatonin Is Trending In Children’s Sleep
But It’s A Different Story For The Research
There’s no denying it, melatonin is hot with the 3 to 15 year-old demographic right now. Or maybe we should say it’s hot with their parents. Either way, children’s melatonin use is on the rise.
It’s actually nothing new. Children’s melatonin use has been increasing for decades, along with melatonin sales in general. The NIH estimates that currently, 0.7% of children in the USA are taking melatonin. That’s roughly half a million kids.
The web is littered with articles about kids taking melatonin too. A simple search will bring up plenty of anxious mothers’ questions and pediatricians’ editorials on whether kids should take melatonin. The comments sections of these articles are usually a treasure trove of parents’ experiences giving melatonin to kids as young as toddlers without their doctor’s advice.
And who’s to blame them? It’s tough to get your kids to go to sleep. Wouldn’t we all like a magic pill to make bedtime a little easier? Of course we would, and melatonin has been proven to work in adults. It’s also safe, right? Well, it’s surprising how little research we actually have on that.
Anecdotally, melatonin seems safe. It’s difficult to find any negative experiences on internet forums. We’ve also heard from a handful adults who had been given melatonin as kids without any noticeable long-term consequences on growth, development, or sexual irregularities. It’s only anecdotal evidence so a lot of specific are lacking, but it could be a good sign.
We’ve spent the past few days looking for clinical research on children and melatonin. The lack of data is frustrating. In 2011, the Cochrane Collaboration, an international team of medical researchers attempted to write a review on the topic, but had to give up. They said, “We did not find any of these studies that were suitable to be included in our review and so we are unable to draw any conclusions”. Other researchers had similar difficulties, stating, “There are no good data concerning the safety and efficacy of long-term melatonin use… in children and adolescents.”
Since those reviews, we’ve done only a little better. Please take these summaries of select studies with a grain of salt:
Some parents are concerned about whether melatonin supplements could stop melatonin from being naturally produced. We don’t know for sure, because melatonin production levels haven’t been specifically measured in children. However, it’s possible that children might grow dependent on melatonin supplements for sleep. In one study, researchers concluded that kids lost a little sleep the week after stopping melatonin use.
Delayed Puberty Concerns
Another concern is that melatonin supplements could interfere with sexual hormonal pathways and cause early or late puberty, or infertility later in life. Only one study in our review looked at pubertal timing, and the number of children surveyed was exceedingly low. Still, the researchers concluded that children of pubertal age who had taken melatonin every night for at least 6 months did not differ in the timing of puberty onset compared to children of the same age in the general population. This same study also reported that social development was not significantly affected.
But questions about fertility and sexual development persist. One often-cited study has claimed that the natural melatonin level is highest during the years of gonadal development in boys. Concerned parents and some doctors insist that male fertility could be affected if melatonin supplements suppressed natural melatonin production. However, other studies have claimed that melatonin levels are highest much earlier in life, and drop years before gonadal development. Regardless, this just shows how disjointed research can be and indicates that better research should be done.
And that’s the position we’re currently in; we can’t prove melatonin’s safety, one way or the other. Melatonin use is increasing in children, and while we can only say that so far that users seem to report that it’s safe, we have a responsibility to conduct more research.
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