Melatonin, a sleep hormone, is a natural part of the body’s sleep and wake system. Ongoing research shows that melatonin supplements can help adults manage certain sleep disorders.
Preliminary research also suggests that melatonin may aid children who are prone to sleep disorders. Children who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more likely to have difficulty falling asleep than other children.
Because research on melatonin supplement use in children is limited, experts recommend you talk with your healthcare provider before giving your child melatonin.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain as part of the body’s sleep initiation process. When you’re exposed to darkness, your body makes more melatonin. When you’re exposed to light, your body produces less melatonin.
Melatonin supplements can be made naturally from animal sources or created synthetically. It comes in pills, patches, and liquid forms.
In the United States, you can purchase melatonin dietary supplements as an over-the-counter sleep aid. In other countries, melatonin is more heavily regulated and classified as a drug that requires a prescription.
Melatonin supplementation has been shown to be an effective method for reducing symptoms of sleep disorders in adults. These disorders include jet lag and insomnia. Additional research is being done on the use of melatonin in adults with seasonal affective disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.
Can Melatonin Help Kids Fall Asleep?
If your child is struggling to fall asleep at night or get sufficient sleep, melatonin supplements are a possible short-term strategy for helping them achieve quality sleep. Research on the use of melatonin in children is limited. However, studies of select groups of children provide promising evidence of melatonin’s effectiveness in initiating sleep.
Melatonin and Children With ADHD
As many as 70% of children with ADHD experience sleep problems. They frequently experience excessive daytime sleepiness caused by initial insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep at night.
Studies show that children with ADHD who take melatonin experience improved sleep. One study found a reduction in insomnia, leading to children falling asleep an average of 16 minutes earlier7.
Melatonin and Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
Sleep disorders affect between 50% and 80% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Studies of melatonin use in children with ASD have found improved sleep onset and sleep quantity8. Some children also experience improved daytime behavior, and there appear to be few to no side effects.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved melatonin9 for use in children and adolescents with insomnia and other sleep disorders. However, some doctors do recommend melatonin for children sleeping poorly. Use of melatonin in children is called “off label,” or using a drug for a purpose or group of people other than what is officially recommended.
Side Effects of Melatonin
Melatonin is considered relatively safe for short-term use and has few risks. However, some children who take melatonin supplements may experience mild symptoms. These symptoms may include bedwetting, drowsiness, headaches, and agitation.
Currently, there is little research on the long-term effects of melatonin use in children. Some experts question if melatonin, because it is a hormone, can affect other hormonal development in adolescents. Further research must be conducted to more clearly understand the long-term effects of melatonin on children.
Is Melatonin Safe for Babies?
Melatonin is not recommended for infants. Melatonin concentrations are quite low in babies three months and younger, and their circadian systems are still developing. At this time, there are no long-term studies on melatonin use in babies.
If your infant struggles to sleep, talk to your pediatrician. They can help you identify possible causes and develop a treatment plan.
How Much Melatonin Is Too Much?
Melatonin doses for adults range from 0.5 milligram to 5 milligrams taken about an hour before bedtime.
The recommended appropriate dosage of melatonin for children varies among experts. There is no standardized melatonin dosage chart by age or weight in the United States.
Additionally, there are no set guidelines for what time or how frequently children should take melatonin. Consult your pediatrician to determine what dosage of melatonin and timing is right for your child.
When to Talk to Your Doctor About Melatonin
Sleep is essential for children for a number of reasons. During sleep, the body releases growth hormones and repairs damaged tissue and muscle. Appropriate sleep in children is linked to positive school performance.
If your child is struggling to fall asleep or get sufficient sleep, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help identify the cause of sleeplessness. Common reasons for a lack of sleep in children include insomnia and delayed sleep-phase syndrome.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Proper sleep hygiene can also improve sleep quality and quantity. Research shows that good sleep hygiene alone can eliminate pediatric insomnia in 50% of the instances in which melatonin is suggested for treatment. The combination of sleep hygiene and melatonin is more effective at improving sleep in children than melatonin alone.
A bedtime routine at a consistent time each night provides comfort to help your child fall asleep. Your bedtime routine can include soothing activities such as taking a bath and reading a book or singing lullabies.
Experts also recommend that parents limit their children’s use of electronics in the hours before bedtime. The blue light from devices, such as phones, tablets, TVs, and video game consoles, can delay the onset of natural melatonin release.