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Thinking about melatonin to help kids sleep? Ask your pediatrician

July 1, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on children’s sleep, and more families are turning to melatonin supplements to help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to talk with their pediatrician before their child takes melatonin supplements. Pediatricians can answer questions and offer guidance on how and when to use melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that helps you fall asleep. It does not keep you asleep. The same goes for the supplement.

Taking a melatonin supplement seems like a quick fix, but it will not solve long-term sleep problems, said Anna Esparham, M.D., FAAP, an expert in pediatric integrative medicine from the AAP. “It takes hard work to actually have a normal, healthy bedtime and sleep routine,” she said.

About 15%-25% of children and adolescents have trouble falling and staying asleep. Dr. Esparham said parents should look for clues as to why their child can’t sleep, including stress, increased screen time, less physical activity and online school.

If families want to try melatonin, they should be aware of possible side effects such as drowsiness during the day and having to urinate more at night. Long-term use of melatonin is being studied.

Parents should do the following when using melatonin:

  • Start with the lowest dose and give it to your child at the time recommended by your pediatrician. Melatonin comes in many forms, including gummies, capsules and tablets, and the doses are different.
  • Look on the label for a logo that shows the product is certified by a third-party such as Consumer Lab, NSF International, UL and U.S. Pharmacopeia. This means the group has tested the product to make sure it has the ingredients listed and is not contaminated. The Food and Drug Administration does not test melatonin or other dietary supplements.
  • Keep melatonin out of children’s reach. Calls to poison control centers for melatonin increased 70% from mid-March 2020 through the end of 2020.
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