Chew on this.
One in five American children are being given melatonin gummies and tablets by their parents to get them to sleep — despite ongoing warnings against giving the popular natural sleep aid to children and adolescents without a prescription.
The increased numbers represent a shocking rise from just a few years ago, according to new research conducted at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently warned against giving the sleep-inducing supplement to children under 13 years old.
Melatonin is not yet fully regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. There have been recent reports that certain melatonin brands may contain up to 300% a dose, it’s advertised — representing an even greater possible danger to kids.
From 2012 to 2021, there was a 530% increase in kids consuming melatonin — 94% accidentally — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts believe that because melatonin is commonly taken in gummy form, children can be lured into thinking it is candy.
“We hope this paper raises awareness for parents and clinicians, and sounds the alarm for the scientific community,” said study lead author Lauren Hartstein.
“We are not saying that melatonin is necessarily harmful to children. But much more research needs to be done before we can state with confidence that it is safe for kids to be taking long-term.”
Melatonin — a prescription drug in other nations like the United Kingdom — has seen a suddenly vast increase of use in the United States among kids, according to Hartstein.
“All of a sudden, in 2022, we started noticing a lot of parents telling us that their healthy child was regularly taking melatonin,” she said. “Parents may not actually know what they are giving to their children when administering these supplements.”
In 2017, only about 1.3% of parents said they gave to their children, per the university, which noted some scientists fear it can impact the timing of puberty.
In the recent University of Colorado study, almost 20% of kids 5 to 9 and 10 to 13 were given the hormone. It was also found that 6% of preschoolers aged 1 to 4 were taking it as well.
Meanwhile, the FDA is looking into ways that make the supplement look less like a snack.
“Although it’s typically well-tolerated, whenever we’re using any kind of medication or supplement in a young, developing body we want to exercise caution,” said co-author and pediatric sleep specialist Julie Boergers.
She added that while it can be effective in some short term cases, “it is almost never a first-line treatment.”
Boegers also said that she’s heard from the parents of patients that children build up resistance to melatonin over time and require higher doses.
Hartstein believes that this data sheds light on a larger issue as well.
“If this many kids are taking melatonin, that suggests there are a lot of underlying sleep issues out there that need to be addressed,” she said. “Addressing the symptom doesn’t necessarily address the cause.”