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Melatonin: Good for getting kids to sleep?

child sleeping after taking melatonin
Before you consider giving your child melatonin, talk to their provider because the effects on healthy children are unknown.

If you surf the web trying to find answers to help your child sleep, you have probably come across melatonin as a common suggestion for parents.

Dr. Andrew Guminski, family medicine provider with Marshfield Clinic Health System, suggests you talk to your child’s provider before giving melatonin.

“Generally for healthy children who don’t have neurodevelopmental problems like autism or ADHD, I don’t encourage use of melatonin,” said Dr. Guminski. “We don’t know what the effects are for healthy children. It is likely safe, but we don’t know for sure.”

Melatonin is not FDA-approved

Melatonin is a supplement, which means it is naturally occurring in the environment, such as a plant. As a supplement, it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that it has not been tested or evaluated by the FDA for safety or effectiveness using clinical trials.

“All medications, including over-the-counter medications, are evaluated by the FDA and are required to list that on the package inserts,” Dr. Guminski said.

Since melatonin is not regulated by the FDA, each manufacturer could make it differently. This means there is no guarantee:

  • You are getting the medication when you purchase it in the store.
  • It is of quality.
  • It was prepared properly.

What is known about melatonin

Studies on melatonin are fairly limited. At this time, there are no known long-term side effects.

“It probably has a pretty good side effect profile and that is confirmed by most providers,” Dr. Guminski said. “It is probably safe.”

Some studies have shown that melatonin can help with sleep for those with autism and ADHD. There also may be other medical conditions where it might be a good fit for your child.

Depending on the type of sleep problem, your doctor may recommend different doses at different times of the day. For instance, a provider would recommend taking melatonin differently if your child has a problem getting to sleep versus a child whose day and night sleep cycles are mixed.

Melatonin may also have interactions with other medications. It is important to talk to your provider before giving it to your child for all of these reasons.

How to handle sleep

If your child is having trouble sleeping, you should start with proper sleep hygiene like going to bed at the same time every night and reading a book before bed rather than watching TV in the bedroom .

In general, providers do not recommend any over-the-counter sleep aids for children.

“If parents notice their child has chronic difficulty with sleep such as waking up frequently or non-restorative sleep, that is when they should be evaluated by a provider,” Dr. Guminski said.

If you have questions about sleep and melatonin, talk to your provider.


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