According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a lot of children are having trouble sleeping. Surveys indicate 25% to 50% of preschoolers, and up to 40% of adolescents are struggling with some sort of sleep issue. Sleep is essential for all of us. It plays a vital role in our overall health. It’s linked to aiding several important physiological mechanisms in the body, including the immune system, the respiratory system, and the cardiovascular system.
For these reasons, adequate sleep is an important factor affecting the physical and cognitive development of children. Lack of sleep can lead to a variety of negative symptoms, including erratic behavior, development of allergies, and reduced academic performance, just to name a few. It’s no wonder parents with children who have problems sleeping are looking for solutions, and the answer for some may be melatonin.
Melatonin is a natural hormone our bodies produce that helps regulate sleep cycles. Melatonin supplements have been used to improve sleep function in people with certain sleep issues or disorders, like insomnia. Until recently, there was very little research regarding the use of melatonin in children and adolescents. A review of 18 studies on the use of melatonin supplements in children was reviewed in 2019. It concluded that the studies did show melatonin supplements worked better than placebo when comparing the time it took to fall asleep and the total length of time asleep. Another study, published in 2020, found melatonin to be “effective and tolerable in the short-term treatment of sleep onset insomnia in children and adolescents”.
So if your child is having trouble sleeping, should you consider giving them a melatonin supplement? This is still a complicated answer. Despite the positive review in 2019 and the conclusion of the study in 2020, there is still limited research on the long-term effects of melatonin supplements on children and teens. Because of this, it’s best to err on the side of caution, and thoroughly discuss your consideration with your family physician. There can be times when melatonin might work for your child’s situation, but it’s something you and your doctor should look at together before deciding.