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Is melatonin safe for kids? Melatonin had a moment in the news media with reports of “thousands” of emergency room visits for kids who ate too much of it. I’ve recommended melatonin for many years in my pediatric nutrition practice, in many hundreds of cases, and have never seen a single bad reaction or safety concern. So, these alarming reports got me wondering about how this could possibly be.

First, what exactly is melatonin? It is not a medication, it’s a supplement available widely. Melatonin is a hormone that we make. It regulates our sleep cycle. It is a good antioxidant helper too: It can reduce oxidative stress in cells, and disable disruptive free radicals. It promotes some top antioxidants for us, like glutathione and super oxide dismutase. It also has anti-inflammatory effects for the immune system. In kids with autism, it is successful in many clinical trials for stabilizing sleep pattern, in doses as high as 10 mg for school aged children. Melatonin is essential, even in infants – where it plays a role in protecting against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In short, we all need melatonin. A number of factors might disrupt its production or balance, from poor diet, to stress, time zone changes, shift work, lack of daylight exposure, or too much time on screens.

In my pediatric nutrition practice, I find melatonin safe for kids, and usually work in doses from 0.5 mg to 3 mg range. I have used it in young children as well as teens who are unable to easily fall asleep and can’t establish a sleep pattern. I have encountered no adverse reactions, and no addiction to it. There are some medication contraindications with melatonin, so check with your MD team and pharmacist about it if you would like to use this supplement. So far so good!

So, what is up with these news reports? I was reassured when I looked into it, that yes, melatonin can be safe and helpful for kids. Here’s why, with some push back on these reports.

You don’t have to look too far to learn in the news report that the “thousands” of visits that the media touted were accumulated over “recent years”. We aren’t told how long ago this count began – it works better for the media to frighten you and hope you misconstrue that this just happened all of a sudden, misleading you to think melatonin is unsafe! This is not what happened.

Further reading also reveals that the reports were not even based on a count of ER visits due to kids’ melatonin ingestion – but, a CDC projection based on “nearly 300 cases” that were actually seen in the ER. The timeline of when those actual visits occurred is not clear. No link is given by the media to this CDC report. It’s not even clear if it was actual research.

I found the original CDC report here. Indeed, it is a projection, not a report of actual numbers. In it, the CDC actually states “This activity was reviewed by CDC, deemed not research”. It is based on records of 295 actual cases seen in the ER, for unsupervised melatonin ingestion. In about half these cases, very young children or infants ate as much as 10 mg of melatonin gummies or chewable tablets – a dose that is large even for a 70 pound kid with autism who doesn’t sleep – ! Somehow – and it isn’t clear to me how – the CDC took that 295 number and expanded it to 10,930 possible ER admits for eating too much melatonin in kids under age five, over a three year period. They arrived at the conclusion (again without a clear statistical path) that this accounts for 7% of all ER visits for unsupervised ingestion of a medicine in kids under age 5.

This is about as sketch as it gets for media handling of population health data. The CDC didn’t do a good job either, except perhaps to frighten families into tossing melatonin into the trash. This strikes me – quite frankly – as preamble to making melatonin illegal for purchase without a prescription, as has occurred in other countries. This is a move the pharmaceutical industry would welcome as it expands into non-patentable natural supplements. This would remove it from store shelves so consumers can’t buy it – and clear a path for another enormous cash gift to Pharma, something our FDA and CDC consistently provide.

Is melatonin safe for kids? Yes – in fact, even the CDC report acknowledged this, by including reference to poison control center data that found melatonin ingestion calls “resulted in minimal or no effects” 98% of the time.

Here’s how to use melatonin safely, to help your child settle into a healthy sleep pattern, if need be:

  • Check with your pharmacist or doctor first if your child uses medications, especially anti-histamines, psych meds, seizure meds.
  • Resolve other sleep disruptors kids often experience before adding supplements or drugs:
    • Don’t send kids to bed hungry. Allow a snack with all macro’s (protein, carbs, and fats) near bedtime, if your child is hungry. Think toast with butter or ghee and any safe nut or seed butter; my dairy free coconut pudding, or tigernut oatmeal cookies.
    • Get off screens at least 30 minutes before bed.
    • Get outside during the day, especially in the morning.
    • Get outdoor play, every day.
  • Store melatonin out of your child’s reach.
  • Start with a half milligram (0.5 mg) dose. Look for liquid melatonin drops that you can titrate carefully, for a lower dose. One or two milligrams are usually sufficient for school aged children.
  • More is not better, use whatever dose helps reset your child’s sleep pattern comfortably.
  • Stop if your child reports exceptionally vivid dreams. A lower dose may be better.
  • Don’t use gummies. They are too candy-like, and too tempting for little kids.
  • Test if your child still needs melatonin by reducing or removing it every so often.
  • Be sure your kids eat varied sources of protein – not just dairy and wheat – and an overall adequate food intake. These help the brain make its own melatonin.
  • Many other natural, safe tools exist for young children, kids, and teens to sleep better without strong medications or drama. Contact me if you would like to work with me one on one to explore these options.

Is melatonin safe for kids? Like any other supplement or medication, it certainly can be! If you’d like to peruse melatonin liquids or tablets for children, create a log in here to my FullScript platform and browse. Contact me if you have a question, and ask your doctor and pharmacist too.