Is It Right To Give Melatonin Sleep Aids To Children?

child's hand holding sleeping pillsI first came across the concept of giving melatonin to children when I was researching different sleeping pills.

I was surprised to find melatonin sleep aids made specifically for kids being sold over the counter – especially as I knew the side effects that melatonin can cause adults.

Not that the risk of side effects automatically excludes the medical world from recommending medication or supplements for kids.

But something seemed strange about the idea of sleep aids made especially for children.

An emotive issue

Shouldn’t children get sufficiently tired out from play and exercise? Isn’t there more that parents can do to help them sleep before giving them sleeping pills?

These are the kind of emotive questions that the idea of giving children melatonin, or any sleep aids for that matter, brings up.

Ideally, parents should consult their child’s doctor before giving them melatonin. They can tell you if it’s safe for your particular child, and if so, what dose to give them and for how long.

In this article, I’ll be examining some brands of melatonin to see how they are marketed to parents.

I’ll then discuss what sleep experts say about giving kids melatonin, and consider some of the common arguments for and against the idea.

Brands of melatonin made for kids

OZzzz’s Sleep Aid for Children

OZzzz's sleep sid for childrenThis is one of the best selling melatonin products for kids online. It contains 0.5mg melatonin and 2mg chamomile. It’s marketed as being fast dissolving and fruit-flavored so kids will take it.

It gets generally good reviews, but as you would expect, some parents say it didn’t work at all.

I was surprised to find out who makes it; on their website, they say it was developed by a mother who’s a registered nurse with help from her pediatrician – not a pharmaceutical company.

Tired Teddies

tired teddies sleep aidThis brand has a lower dose, with just 0.3mg. It also has other herbal ingredients added to the mix, including Chamomile and Lemon balm.

It’s not clear from their website who manufactures it, though they say ‘at a lab’ in the United States.

I was actually impressed at first by their website. On their Q&A section they do state they agree with natural methods to help children sleep. And they also answer the question of whether melatonin is ‘drugging’ your child.

Then I discovered in their media section photos of a small boy holding 2 boxes of Tired Teddies with a big smile on his face.

I know you can’t judge the quality of a product from the manufacturers choice of promotion techniques. But something about the pictures seemed very strange.

Mel-O-Chew

mel-o-chew sleep aid for childrenMel-O-Chew isn’t marketed specifically for children. On their website, they don’t specify whether it’s for adults or children. However, in their Amazon description they state the following:

NATURALLY ACTIVATES the onset of a healthy sleep pattern in children and adults

It’s also considerably stronger than the first 2 brands, containing 1 mg melatonin. On the extended description you find this ambiguous line explaining how many tablets people should take:

…up to 6 at bedtime (children should take less).

Even though Mel-O-Chew is produced by a larger company (Maxi Health), the lack of instructions for giving it to children is concerning.

What’s going on?

In some parts of the world, melatonin is classified as a dietary supplement, not a pharmaceutical drug.

That means it doesn’t need to be approved by strict organizations such as the Food and Drugs Administration. It’s also available over the counter in the United States, unlike most of Europe.

So it’s easier for companies to manufacture and sell it than many other sleep aids. And there’s currently nothing stopping them from marketing it for use by children.

Here are two more points to consider:

  • Melatonin is the only hormone available in the US without a prescription.
  • Because it isn’t regulated by the FDA, the factories and labs making it aren’t either.

What do medical professionals say?

A report by the Guardian newspaper

In 2017, the Guardian published an interesting article on melatonin, with eye-opening opinions of sleep experts in the U.K.

They make the point that sleep experts are concerned by the rise in the number of parents giving melatonin to their children. They quote Dr Neil Stanley as saying:

Unless a child has a diagnosed condition such as autism that has been scientifically proven to be helped by melatonin, there is no medical rationale for a child to be given it…Most paediatricians know little about sleep or melatonin. For non-autistic children it is a fashionable treatment for parents wanting ‘perfect’ children.

The Canadian Pediatric Society

In June 2013 the Canadian Pediatric Society published an interesting paper about the topic – here is a summary of some of their main points:

  • Good sleep hygiene should always be implemented before melatonin is considered.
  • There is no evidence supporting the use of melatonin for kids under the age of 2.
  • Melatonin has been found to help improve sleep for some children. Namely with sleep disorders such as behavioral insomnia or delayed sleep phase type. Interestingly they state that most studies showing this involve children in special populations. Namely children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • They then say the studies are very limited showing how effective melatonin is for kids. This is because there haven’t been many done, and there were only a small number of children in each study.
  • They further state that there is a lack of research into the long-term effectiveness and safety of using melatonin.

The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

NICE state on their website that there is only one licensed melatonin product in the UK (Circadin, Flynn Pharma Ltd).

Circadin is a 2mg melatonin pill which is only licensed for adults over 55 years with primary insomnia. If doctors give it to children, it means it’s ‘off-label’ – which is what the Guardian reports as being on the rise.

However, NICE go on to state that there is ‘no high-quality evidence’ that melatonin helps children with sleep disorders and ADHD. In fact, only a small number of limited trials have shown it to be safe and effective for children with ADHD.

Interestingly, they do point out that it appeared to be generally safe in the clinical trials:

Unlicensed melatonin used in the RCTs was well tolerated in children during short-term (up to 4 weeks) and medium-term (average 18 months) useOnly mild transient adverse effects were reported throughout. The most common adverse events reported in the melatonin group of the larger 4-week RCT were headache (n=3; 5.7%), hyperactivity (n=3; 5.7%), dizziness (n=2; 3.8%) and abdominal pain (n=2; 3.8%)

What does it all mean?

It appears that even the medical world isn’t entirely in agreement. Some sources say it should be avoided altogether. Others say it’s reasonable in certain circumstances, such as for children with ADHD or autism.

There seems to be only one concept which is repeated throughout the medical world: there still hasn’t been enough research into the long-term safety.

Arguments against giving kids melatonin

People have many different thoughts about this, as you might imagine in such a controversial topic. Here are a few of the key reasons that so many people disagree with the idea:

1. Kids have a high amount of melatonin anyway

Children have a naturally high amount of melatonin in their body. It might be worth asking your child’s doctor to test them for melatonin deficiency first.

2. Isn’t it just wrong to give children a synthesized hormone?

This is a concept which comes up time and again in comments in news articles, blogs, and forums. This is a personal viewpoint which obviously depends somewhat on your leaning towards natural remedies.

3. The risk of side effects

Melatonin is known to have an extensive list of possible side effects come with it. You can read the article about melatonin overdose to find out more about these.

Some people talk about risks such as it affecting the development of the ovaries or testes in puberty. This hasn’t been researched properly, but the possibility does sometimes appear in medical sources.

4. Parents should control the bedtime routine instead

Perhaps parents can help their children with a more effective and consistent bedtime routine. This is another reason medical professionals recommend good sleep hygiene first.

5. Some children are just overactive, aren’t they?

This sounds a reasonable argument if a parent gives a child melatonin after just a few nights of not sleeping. But some children do have diagnosed sleep disorders which last months or years.

6. Isn’t it just plain wrong to drug your child?

Again this is another emotive point that many people make. Is it ethically right to ‘put your child to sleep’? When you phrase it in terms like ‘drug your child’ then it does sound bad. But the very idea of using melatonin to put a child to sleep night after night clearly worries some people.

7. Isn’t it making life easier for the parents?

I imagine there are some parents who might see it as a way to get more peace and quiet. But you have to hope that most parents are thinking more about their child’s well-being than their own.

So why do parents give melatonin to their kids?

This is a tricky question to answer because there are so many different factors which contribute to decisions like this. But there are some principle reasons parents might be in favor of using it:

1. A doctor recommends it

Some doctors do recommend melatonin for kids in certain situations. And some parents who are desperate for a solution to their child’s sleeplessness may naturally take the advice of a doctor.

2. Worried about the health effects of sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation can cause a range of other health problems. So parents have to weigh up the pros and cons of the side effects of melatonin with the effects of missing so much sleep.

3. Concerned about problems with school

Sleep problems are also strongly linked with academic achievement, as well as overall well-being at school.

4. They don’t know what else to do

Not all parents have the knowledge or ability to control their child through extensive sleep hygiene and behavioral work.

5. They’ve tried everything else

Some parents will feel at a complete loss of how else to help their child sleep. The strain it puts on the family as a whole leads to them considering any option which might help.

Conclusion

As you can see, it’s not so easy to decide whether it’s right to give children melatonin. It may be that the very idea horrifies you. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably stuck somewhere in the middle or are at least curious.

In summary, I think there are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Even if you can get it over the counter or online, talk to a doctor first to get a professional and personalized opinion. They can tell you if it might work, how much to take, how long for, and what side effects you might expect.
  • Try to help your child develop a stable sleep routine and habits first, particularly with regards to bedtime activities and schedules.
  • Do more research into the possible side effects of melatonin.
  • Get a thorough understanding of how melatonin works. It’s not the same as other sleeping pills and if you don’t know how it works, it may surprise you. It may also help you understand other ways you can help your child keep their body clock working well.

Your view

Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on this controversial subject below.

30 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hello I have a 1 1/2 year old who will not sleep at night she would go to bed at 9pm and would be back up at 2 am and won’t go back to sleep until 6 am and sleep all the way to 2pm. I have 3 mg melatonin if I break it in half or in fourths could I give it to her to help her sleep?

    • Hi Tonisha
      Thanks for your comment. Personally, I wouldn’t break up adult melatonin to give to a child. I’d also want to talk to their primary care doctor to double check it’s safe to give them. I can understand your frustration at their broken sleep pattern, and how it must be affecting your sleep and daily life too. It’s not easy coping with the loss of sleep that invariably comes with young children. But I do think it’s best to err on the side of caution – check with a doctor first, and if it’s advised by them, only give them what was manufactured with kids in mind so you get the right dosage and in a way that they can comfortably take. And in the meantime, I’d also spend lots of time researching all the great parenting websites and books out there with advice about kids’s sleep patterns. If you haven’t already, there’s so much useful advice available nowadays. As a starting point, have a read of this article about kid’s bedtime routines.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • This was a very good informative, UNBIASED article it was great to read both pros and cons. My Dr. Has recommended melatonin to me as I have not been able to fall asleep even aftet lying in bed for hours, but my daughter also has the same sleep problems I wanted to learn if Other parents conisdered giving Melatonin to their children and if ao what kind of doses.

  • Thank you ! This has been a relief to read, for the most part. I have had wonderful results , giving two of my four children Melatonin. Unfortunately, I was completely unaware of this with my first two children. They both struggled with sleep, in younger years, as did I as a child. I was concerned, about my youngest. She’s the worse case, so far. She can and has stayed up, almost 20 plus hours. Even with a ten mg dose ! Although rare, still reality. Thanks , again, for the great information obtained. Was starting to second guess…….

  • My granddaughter is one and a half yrs old ,and her mom gives it to her even if she is fine and parents are leaving ,just so she will be asleep when she gets home, her mother,my son’s girlfriend, takes sub u tek ? Another form of suboxine which is like methodone, for heroin users. My granddaughter had to be put on morphine when born and stay in hospital for first month of life ,now I’m babysitting during week and getting her on a schedule but she uses this meletonin as a crutch for her own peace etc. She’s only 1and1/2 it says not to give if under 3,still I know she hasn’t talked to a Dr so what can I do about this? She could mess this baby’s life up! If not already! I’m against giving a child/baby anything just so you don’t have to worry about them keeping you up.

    • Hi Kim
      Thanks for your comment, and I do sympathize with the difficult position you must feel in. I think perhaps a good first step would be to talk to your own doctor about it. They can tell you more about the health risks of giving it to a child of that age, and perhaps offer you some good advice based on your particular part of the world, and maybe offer some ideas for who you can talk to for support in dealing with the family situation, if you feel you need or would like support. I’d also suggest talking to the parents about it, and how you feel. Perhaps you can offer to help with the sleep naturally and see how it goes. You might even find the melatonin isn’t doing much and that she sleeps just fine without it.
      Regards
      Ethan

      • I’m reading this as my son is 3 in may and has never slept thought the night….ever…..he has (like my other two children) had a very strict and consistent bedtime routine since birth and can wake up to 18 times…..I’m exhausted and he is getting grumpy because he is tired…..so I don’t think it’s a case of ‘just so mum can get some sleep’ a happier mummy and child will make us a happier family in general!!!

      • Sometimes moms have to get up and go to work in the mornings. It’s either that or they call in sick too many times and lose their jobs. Sometimes they’re the only source of income. Not too mention going to work sleep deprived and then coming home to take care of little ones on top of that. Poor woman probably needs a break.

  • I like many of the parents above have had great success with melatonin for my now 11 year old daughter. My daughter was born extremely early and weighed 1.5 pounds at Birth. For both her and her younger brother we’ve been like sleep Nazis with their sleep hygiene since they were born. Her younger brother now it continues to sleep very well and we’re still strict about bedtime etcetera with both of them. But my daughter starting at about age six could not fall asleep no matter what we tried. We did speak to her pediatrician as we were suffering so much as was my daughter and she agreed to for us to try melatonin which work like a miracle. We went back to the pediatrician to ask about long term use of it and she felt it was okay. We try our best to go nights without it still but my daughter asked for her sleepy pill knowing it works. My daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD and sensory processing disorder all as a result of her being born so early. She is extremely active and cannot quiet her mind. Without melatonin she would read 10 books and stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning.

    • Hi Liz
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. I think you did the right thing by the sounds of it – discussing it with your pediatrician and then going back to check in again later. If it works for your daughter and improves her quality of sleep, and life, in a safe way, that’s the important thing.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Hi there. I also agree with giving Melatonin to children IF you have exhausted all other options. My son is 6 and has ADHD and I’ve struggled in the past 2 yrs. I’ve had a strict routine with him since 2 mths old. He’s always been in bed by 7:30 but won’t go straight to sleep. As he’s getting older this past year has been COMPLETELY stressful as I am a single mother fighting with my 6 yr old about going to sleep. He’s been up til 4 am and that is AWEFUL for a 6 yr old or any child for that matter. Hell that’s aweful for me as an adult. It got to the point that I was getting sick being up fightin with him at different hours to go back sleep, but due to his condition, he just can’t. I finally went to his psychiatrist because I was at my wits end, and he suggested melatonin. It was a God sent because for the first time in a long time we BOTH got some sleep. It’s aweful to see your child suffering from a lack of sleep. He goes to sleep with ease and wakes up refreshed and happy. I was DEFINITELY a skeptic, but when you’ve hit a point where you both physically can not function because of the lack of sleep, you hit a desperation because NO ONE is happy. When it comes to children with ADHD, Autism etc. I recommend it.

    • Hi Miss T
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. I can totally understand your point of view. I think that working with the psychiatrist is the right way to go about things, and as long as it’s being monitored on an on-going basis, it’s great that you’re both able to sleep and function better because of it.
      Regards
      Ethan

    • This is Trisha in Richmond Va. I just read your story on here and I am glad everyone is sleeping good now. Now when I don’t sleep for several days it will also put me in a very bad mood and I will feel like I don’t want anybody to talk to me and I don’t want to hang around other people. Since I have gotten older each year my sleeping keeps getting worse everyday. I will wake up at midnight then wont be able to go back to sleep until 1 am in the freaking morning.

  • My son is 14 with Adhd without these he wouldn’t not go to sleep. My son school few years never really believed me that he didn’t sleep until he went on residential! ha was awake to 4 am! Now they had I night of what I was having to deal with and they couldn’t cope I had since he was born! this was with out melatonin. Children with Adhd do not produce the natural sleep like normal children do. Proven by doctors. The first night he took was the first night sleep I’d had since he was born! Now this year he went on residential with his melatonin and slept all night! Proving it works wonders. The teachers were amazed. They were expecting to be up all night. I said it works lol. If it wasn’t for melatonin I’d be up all night barely getting 2 hours sleep a night if was lucky!

    • Hi Allison
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. It’s great that your son is sleeping better now with the melatonin. I think it can be useful, and as long as a doctor is keeping an eye on him over time, it’s a positive thing to sleep better of course. Hopefully in time he’ll manage to sleep without the melatonin, but for now I can understand your relief.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I give my son who is almost 3 melatonin every night he has mild asd and had never slept longer than 4 hours a night in 18 months he started melatonin at 2 and it’s the only thing that got him a good sleep I have no hesitation to stop using it as it works for us

    • Hi Meg
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand why you’d be hesitant to stop if you get such great results with it. Do remember to keep talking it over with your doctor periodically though to make it’s still a good idea for your son to keep using.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • can giving a child melatonin cause behavior problems can it make them lash out by hitting and biting themselves and screaming out at someone calling them names. I would really like to know if this could be cause by giving the child melatonin please let me know soon. thank you I am a very concerned grandparent.

    • Hi Sheryl
      I’m not aware of any connection between melatonin and this kind of behavior. My suggestion would be to speak to the child’s doctor about it and work with them if the child is having both sleep problems and exhibiting behavior such as this.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I posted this comment under another question and maybe it should be here as well: Because melatonin is touted as “safe” and “natural” my daughter was giving it to her 3 children for at least a year. The oldest of the 3 was given the highest dose during this time. She now has what appears to be autoimmune disorder known as ulcerative colitis. When the symptoms of the disorder were worsening, I began to suspect melatonin and read up on it. Notice the bottles all say not to take it if you have autoimmune disease. This is because there are documented case histories that suggest it caused or worsened existing autoimmune disease. This is a very sad situation. I am very sad because she was such a healthy child and now suffering with this nasty disorder. Further research I found that says the highest concentration of melatonin is actually in the large intestine. I think if you take it you are potentially setting yourself up for autoimmune disease (especially if you are predisposed). And, if you give it to your children, you may regret it down the road. Other countries (many) do not sell it OTC. People can’t even get it shipped to them from the USA. I believe the negative effects will show as time passes, and people continue to take the hormone.

    • Hi Sharon

      Thank you for your comment, and I’m very sorry to hear about your granddaughter’s illness. You’re right in that Melatonin has been found by some studies to have an association with some auto-immune disorders. You’re also right in that melatonin isn’t available without a prescription in many countries.
      Again I’d say the most important thing if parents are considering giving it to their children is to make the decision with their doctor bearing in mind the child and parent’s medical histories.
      I wish you and your family strength and positive wishes.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • After reading your thoughts and findings on wether Melatonin should be given to children I felt I needed to let you know my thoughts on it. I have a daughter who is awaiting a possible diagnoses of autism she is aged 11 and for many years has struggled to get to sleep. Once asleep she is fine and will get a good night sleep, but she can be awake all night just staring into space, sometimes pleading to me to help her get to sleep!
    I tried our local GP and Health visitor but with no success . I was told by my daughters pediatric consultant that she needed good sleep hygiene ! We have tried everything and nothing works. It has effected her performance at school and leaves her emotionally drained. The consultant also said if she s just lying in bed, then her body would be resting so it wouldn’t be a problem if she didn’t actually sleep ! ( what a load of rubbish)
    The consultant also said that the Melatonin recommended by my child’s GP wouldn’t work on a healthy child like my daughter !
    After a lot of talking to the consultant he agreed to prescribe it.
    Amazing ,wonderful effects it had on my daughter the first night she took it, I gave it to her 1hr before bed, in calm surroundings, no bright lights, soft noise etc. for the first time ever my daughter said ” mummy I’m tired I need to go to bed ” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Once she was in bed she was a sleep within 15 mins. It has had such positive effects on her and us as a family. The only trouble I have is getting her to take it, she has a condition called SPD which means she can’t tolerate certain tastes, touch, noise. Unfortunately Melatonin is very strong smelling and once crushed I have to hide it in certain foods. She some how knows it’s in there and spits it back out. So I’m back at square one because they won’t perscribe it in a liquid form.

    • Hi Kellogg
      Thanks for your comment, and it was very interesting to hear about your family’s experience with melatonin. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a detailed and personal comment.
      I can understand your desire to try melatonin in your case. I know that many families struggle terribly because of the sleep problems children can have.
      The important thing is that you have worked with your doctor on this, even if they were reluctant at first. I do agree that sleep hygiene is the best thing that anyone can do to help them sleep and should always be the first thing to try. And it can take weeks of really working hard to find the right combination of factors to help kids sleep, from having a stable sleep pattern to a calming bedroom setting to exercise and diet.
      But if melatonin does prove to be an effective measure in the short term, have you considered the gummy versions that some american companies produce? You might have more luck with those.
      Regards
      Ethan

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