Researchers "sound alarms" as more parents are giving kids melatonin

More parents are giving their kids melatonin to sleep — but is it safe?

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published November 17, 2023 5:00AM (EST)

 4 year old little boy sleeping with his cuddly toy in his bed (Getty Images/Catherine Delahaye)
4 year old little boy sleeping with his cuddly toy in his bed (Getty Images/Catherine Delahaye)

Among school-aged children and pre-teens, an estimated one in five of them are taking melatonin routinely to help them sleep, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers surveyed about 1,000 parents in the first half of 2023 and found that 18.5 percent of the children between 5 and 9 had been given melatonin in the previous 30 days. For kids between 10 to 13, that percentage rose to 19.4 percent. Six percent of kids surveyed between the ages of 1 and 4 also used melatonin in the previous 30 days. In a previous study conducted between 2017 and 2018, 1.3% of parents reported that their children used melatonin. Pediatricians are concerned because melatonin isn’t closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

The authors highlighted this lack of regulation as a "particular concern because the amount of melatonin present in over-the-counter supplements can vary drastically. In a recent examination of 25 commercial supplements, actual melatonin quantity ranged from 74% to 347% of the labeled content." Meanwhile, they noted "incidence of melatonin ingestion reported to poison control centers increased 530% from 2012 to 2021,4 largely occurring among children younger than 5 years."

“We hope this paper raises awareness for parents and clinicians, and sounds the alarm for the scientific community,” said lead author Lauren Hartstein in a press statement. “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.”


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