A new survey shows more parents are giving their school-age children melatonin supplements.
Humans naturally produce melatonin that helps regulate their circadian rhythms. It signals the body to prepare for sleep. Supplementary melatonin is often used as a sleep aid.
The new research shows 6% of kids aged 1-4 had received melatonin supplements in the last month; 18.5% of kids ages 5 to 9 took it, as did 19.4% of kids 10-13.
The older the child, the greater the dosage: preschoolers took as much as 2 milligrams, while preteens took up to 10 milligrams.
And the older the child, the longer they had been taking supplements: preschoolers who received melatonin did so for a median 12 months of use, while grade schoolers took it for median lengths of 18 months and high schoolers did so for 21 months.
The researchers say their findings suggest it's "exceedingly common" for U.S. children and adolescents to take melatonin, sometimes starting at an early age and sometimes extending for periods of longer than a year at a time.
As a dietary supplement, melatonin is not regulated as strictly by the FDA as prescription drugs, and may contain varying levels of active ingredient depending on the manufacturer.
A recent investigation of 25 different melatonin supplements revealed "actual melatonin quantity ranged from 74% to 347% of the labeled content."
From 2012 to 2021, there was a more than fivefold increase in calls to poison control centers concerning young children, most under 5, who had taken melatonin.
Researchers also say the use of melatonin supplements for children may suggest the presence of underlying problems such as sleep disruption, which ought to be diagnosed and treated as accurately as possible.
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