Quick Health Scoop
- Melatonin is a hormone that the body naturally produces.
- Melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm—your internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle.
- Melatonin is a 100% drug-free sleep supplement and can help you fall asleep faster and may help you stay asleep longer.
- The proper melatonin dosage depends on your age and specific sleep issue.
When your child’s bedtime hits, you might dim the lights, read a book, give a big hug and say goodnight—all cues that it’s time for your little one to fall asleep. But what if they struggle to fall asleep? You might be considering giving them melatonin, a 100% drug-free sleep aid. After all, plenty of adults turn to melatonin supplements to help normalize their sleep. If you are considering this for your little one, you are likely wondering, is melatonin safe for kids? If so, what’s the right melatonin dosage for children? Should they take the same melatonin sleep aid made for adults, or is there a children's melatonin?
What Exactly Is Melatonin?
Your body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, playing a key role in regulating the body’s sleep/wake cycle.1 The brain increases the production of melatonin when it's dark and decreases its production when it's light. That explains why being exposed to blue light in the evening (such as looking at a tablet, tv or smartphone) can inhibit the production of melatonin2 It is best to limit exposure to blue light at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Is Melatonin Safe For Kids?
While plenty of studies shows that melatonin is safe for adults to take on a short-term basis, the safety of long-term use isn’t quite clear. And not much research has been done on whether it’s safe for children to take. However, recently, there has been some promising research showing that short-term use of melatonin is effective and well-tolerated in treating difficulty falling asleep in children and adolescents.3 Other research shows that melatonin may be especially helpful for children with conditions that can impact their ability to fall asleep, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.4 Melatonin’s use in these circumstances should be discussed and carefully monitored by your child’s pediatrician.4
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that melatonin should only be used after talking with your child’s pediatrician and after using already established healthy sleep habits and routines that don’t include medication.4
What Is the Proper Melatonin Dosage For Kids?
If you’re considering giving your child a sleep aid, you might be asking yourself, “How much melatonin can a child take?” You might also be confused about the right melatonin dosage for children. The best plan is to talk with your child’s pediatrician about using melatonin as a sleep aid for kids. If you’ve gotten the green light, then talk with the pediatrician about the proper melatonin dose.
In fact, giving kids melatonin can be a challenge, as dosing and timing really depend on your child’s age and/or weight. For example, Boston Children’s Hospital recommends that, generally speaking, melatonin shouldn’t be given to healthy, typically developing children under age three, since sleep issues at this age are almost always behavioral in nature.5
A 2014 study recommends melatonin doses of one milligram for kids and teens. According to the study, children less than 88 pounds should take a maximum dosage of three milligrams, and children weighing more than 88 pounds should take a maximum dosage of five milligrams.6 The study also said that melatonin reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and increases total sleep time, but it doesn’t reduce night awakenings.
Your best bet? Speak to your child’s pediatrician first about your concerns regarding your child’s sleep issues and using melatonin. If you get the thumbs up then start with the lowest dosage. The general advice is to take melatonin 30 to 90 minutes before bedtime. In doing so, many children will respond to a lower dose (0.5 mg or 1 mg), according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And most children who do benefit from melatonin don't need any more than 3 to 6 mg.4
What Are Melatonin’s Side Effects On Kids?
Potential, though mild, side effects of melatonin use in children include agitation, headache, dizziness and drowsiness. While it is not known for sure and more research on the long term use of melatonin in children is needed, it’s important to remember that melatonin is a hormone, and, as such, there is a possibility that it may affect hormonal development, including puberty and menstrual cycles.2
The Bottom Line
If your child occasionally has trouble falling asleep, instilling better sleep habits and routines might be in order. But if your child experiences significant difficulty falling asleep, melatonin might benefit, especially when it’s used in combination with behavioral interventions and healthy sleep practices.5
Most importantly, talk with your child’s pediatrician before giving them melatonin to make sure it’s right for them, to understand the proper dosage, and to rule out any underlying health issues.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
1 Mayo Clinic. “Melatonin.” March 30, 2018. Accessed on: September 23, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-melatonin/art-20363071
2 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Melatonin: What You Need to Know.” 2019. Accessed on: September 18, 2020. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know
3 Sleep Medicine. “Efficacy and safety of melatonin for sleep onset insomnia in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” April 2020. Accessed on: September 23, 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1389945718307561
4 American Academy of Pediatrics. “Melatonin and Children’s Sleep.” January 2, 2020. Accessed on: September 23, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Melatonin-and-Childrens-Sleep.aspx
5 Boston Children’s Hospital. “Five things to know about melatonin for kids.” May 20, 2019. Accessed on: September 23, 2020. https://discoveries.childrenshospital.org/melatonin-for-children/
6 European Journal of Pediatric Neurology. “Current role of melatonin in pediatric neurology: clinical recommendations.” 2014. Accessed on: September 23, 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25553845/ (Full text: https://iris.uniroma1.it/retrieve/handle/11573/764521/66750/Bruni_Current-role%20_2015.pdf)