CLEVELAND — As back-to-school season hits households across Northeast Ohio, an increasing number of families are turning to melatonin supplements to help their children and teens sleep.
According to the CDC, sales of melatonin in the U.S. have increased by 150% between 2016 and 2020. But is the supplement safe for kids and teens?
Sleep specialist Dr. Brian Chen of The Cleveland Clinic says he typically does not recommend over-the-counter medications to help kids fall asleep.
In terms of melatonin, the hormone does not make you sleep. The brain uses melatonin to set the time of when we are supposed to feel sleepy.
“It naturally is produced in our brain in order to kind of slowly throughout the day get us to start feeling sleeper and sleeper,” says Dr. Chen. “It uses cues like when did we wake up, when did we start moving, light that’s coming into our brain to tell us ‘now is the time to start making more melatonin and get that production going.’ We artificially take melatonin to kind of mimic that process.”
Dr. Chen says parents should consider what they are giving the melatonin for and if there is a better, natural solution to that problem.
“If the problem is that your child can't fall asleep on time, are they waking up early enough? Are they waking up on time early enough to make their body sleepy earlier enough? That should be the area that you concentrate on,” Dr. Chen explains.
If a parent does decide to give their child melatonin supplements, Dr. Chen recommends only short-term use, such as when children and teens need to reset their schedule after a vacation. In these cases, parents should use low doses from a reputable brand.
When it comes to side effects, Dr. Chen says the biggest one he has seen is excessive sleepiness during the day. The American Academy of Pediatrics says studies have found possible increased urination at night as another common side effect of taking melatonin.
However, the AAP reports that studies also show short-term use of melatonin is relatively safe but long-term risks are not yet known. There are concerns about how melatonin affects a child’s growth and development.
Parents should consult their child’s pediatrician about the possible use of melatonin.
Editor's Note: The following video is from a previous story.
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