The natural release of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and...

The natural release of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by daylight. The hormone is also available as a supplement that can be taken as a pill or chewable gummy. (Dreamstime/TNS) Credit: TNS/Dreamstime

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the brain that is linked to your body’s sleep and wake cycle. The natural release of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by daylight. It’s also available as a supplement that you can take as a pill or chewable gummy.

As a supplement, a small dose can trigger your body to produce melatonin that makes you feel drowsy and helps you fall asleep.

More people are asking their health care team about melatonin and report using it, medical experts said, including parents giving it to children. Here’s what experts  said you need to know about melatonin use in children and how to improve sleep hygiene without a sleep aid.


In the United States, melatonin is available over the counter as a dietary supplement. This differs from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, where melatonin is regulated as a prescription medication.

Research has shown that melatonin is generally safe for short-term use in adults and adolescents. Fewer studies have been done to evaluate the effects of its long-term use and safety. It is also unclear whether melatonin supplements are safe for children.

While melatonin can help children fall asleep, it doesn‘t keep them asleep, according to pediatrician Sarah Scherger, of the Mayo Clinic in Austin, Minnesota. Difficulty falling or staying asleep can be a sign of an issue, including:

•Iron deficiency, which can cause restlessness during sleep.

•Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which can lead to snoring or obstructive sleep apnea.

•Nightmares, which can become more vivid with melatonin.

That’s why it is crucial to consult with your child’s healthcare team to find and treat issues causing sleep disturbances, according to Scherger.

Melatonin may be recommended for children with neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and managed with routine evaluation and follow-up by their healthcare team, she said.

In gummy form, melatonin supplements can be enticing for children, leading to a risk of overconsumption. Taking a large dose of melatonin can cause gastrointestinal issues or irritability. A large dose also can prevent a child’s body from naturally producing melatonin to make them sleepy, Scherger said.

Evaluate sleep hygiene 

Melatonin use is intended as a short-term aid. When sleep issues are a long-term problem for children, evaluating sleep habits and the environment can identify causes. Many sleep-related disturbances in children can be addressed with a consistent nighttime and sleep routine, according to sleep experts. In addition, they said, screen time should end a half-hour to an hour before bed; the room should be dark and quiet (no phones or other devices should be in the bedroom).

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