Should Kids Take Melatonin to Fix Sleep Problems?
Soaring use raises concerns among doctors over long-term health effects and near-term effectiveness
Parents are giving kids melatonin supplements as a sleep aid in alarmingly growing numbers, despite mixed evidence of effectiveness and unknown, unstudied long-term health risks to developing brains and bodies.
“I cringe when a parent tells me that their child asks for their melatonin every night,” Judith Owens, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital sleep center, told The Wall Street Journal, which reports that overall melatonin purchases in the United States have surged to $1.1 billion a year, double the spend three years ago.
Melatonin supplements are not sleeping pills. Both come with health risks.
Naturally occurring melatonin is a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles. When the body’s circadian rhythm is in sync, it produces melatonin in the evening to signal the brain and body that it’s time to get drowsy and let go of the day. Bright daylight in the morning helps suppress melatonin and keep us alert during the day, as I explain in my book Make Sleep Your Superpower.
Modern lives often don’t sync well with the natural cycles of daylight and darkness, however, and too many of us spend far too much daytime indoors. The body clock gets out of whack. Add to that early school start times and late-night homework, and about one-third of adolescents and three-fourths of teens are getting less sleep than what’s recommended by health experts.
The health risks are real. Teens who sleep less than 7.5 hours on weeknights are more likely to suffer depression compared to those who get eight, a 2020 study found. Sleeping five hours left teens “significantly more depressed, angry and confused.” Other research finds teens who don’t get enough sleep eat 4.5 pounds more sugar during the school year.
Can melatonin help?
Melatonin supplements, with proper timing and dosage under supervision of a doctor, can be effective…