December 30, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Chee Chun Tan, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatric Pulmonology, Pediatric Sleep Medicine.
Pakkay Ngai, M.D. contributes to topics such as Sleep Medicine.
When your child has trouble falling asleep, you may wonder if a kid-friendly version of melatonin supplements would be safe to offer on occasion. Melatonin may help some kids fall asleep more quickly when it’s used properly, and it comes in gummy varieties that may appeal to children, but you shouldn’t dispense it like candy.
“It’s ideal to teach kids to fall asleep on their own, rather than relying on sleep aids, including dietary supplements like melatonin,” says Pakkay Ngai, M.D., pediatric sleep medicine specialist at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Teaching healthy sleep habits can be tricky, but the rewards pay off for a lifetime.”
What do melatonin supplements do?
People produce the hormone melatonin in the evening as a signal to the body that it’s time to go to sleep; higher levels of melatonin make people feel tired and ready for bed. If you give your child melatonin at the right time during the evening, it may make it easier for them to fall asleep.
“Melatonin doesn’t help everyone fall asleep, although many people do find it useful,” says
Chee Chun Tan, M.D., pediatric sleep medicine specialist at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
Some research suggests that it may also be helpful for kids with ADHD or autism who struggle with sleep when used for short periods. However, long-term usage of melatonin supplements as sleep aids hasn’t been well-studied in children.
Because melatonin is a type of dietary supplement, its production isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that any melatonin gummies that you purchase may contain more or less of the active ingredient than the label says. Always do research first and make sure to purchase supplements from reputable manufacturers that are lab-tested. Consult your child’s doctor for advice. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, U.S. consumers should look for the “USP Verified” mark, which indicates that the product’s makeup meets the requirements of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, an independent global testing organization.
Some experts recommend against giving melatonin gummies to children and teens on a regular basis because melatonin is a hormone and may have an impact on development or puberty.
Melatonin guidelines for kids
Don’t incorporate melatonin into your child’s bedtime routine permanently; only use it on a limited basis (or based on the direction of your physician). If your child can’t swallow pills, consider melatonin gummies. Read the ingredients label, because some gummy supplements contain a lot of sugar or corn syrup.
Before deciding to use melatonin for your child’s sleep, be sure to speak with a pediatrician or sleep medicine specialist, who can advise you on:
- what age you can start giving your child melatonin
- the best time and frequency to give your child melatonin (typically anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours before bed)
- the dosage that’s appropriate for your child (likely between 1 to 5 mg of melatonin)
- any reasons why your child should not take melatonin
Keep melatonin hidden and out of reach, so that any children in your home who enjoy gummy candy aren’t tempted to snack on the supplements.
Teach your child healthy bedtime habits
Whether or not you choose to give your child melatonin as a sleep aid on a limited basis, having a regular bedtime routine should make it easier for your child to fall asleep.
Try these ideas:
- establish a set bedtime, so your child expects to go to sleep at the same time every night
- have a set wakeup time each morning, so your child is tired at bedtime
- put away smartphones and tablets an hour before bed, and keep devices out of the bedroom
- create a relaxing bedtime routine – bathing, reading and listening to music are good options
- keep your child’s bedroom cool and dark (night lights are okay)
- expose your child to bright light (daylight) in the morning
If your child often has trouble falling asleep, talk to the pediatrician about possible causes of the problem, rather than giving your child melatonin gummies regularly.
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our clinical contributors: Pakkay Ngai, M.D., or Chee Chun Tan, M.D.
- To make an appointment with sleep medicine specialists, connect with Dr. Ngai or Dr. Tan – or call 800-822-8905.
- When Will My Child Be Able to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
- Flu or COVID-19? How to Tell the Difference in Kids
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.