August 02, 2019
1 min read

1 in 17 children takes melatonin at least once a week

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Photo of Henning Tiemeier
Henning Tiemeier

Findings of a cross-sectional study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested that approximately 6% of children — or one in 17 — are given melatonin for sleep problems.

“Many children take over-the-counter melatonin that their parents provide, especially if they have sleep problems,” Henning Tiemeier, MD, PhD, a professor of social and behavioral science and the Sumner and Esther Feldberg Chair of Maternal and Child Health in the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “Pediatricians should advise families on melatonin use and alert them that we do not know about the side effects and efficacy of melatonin for sleep problems due to lack of research. This absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of no side effects.”

Tiemeier and colleagues examined the frequency of melatonin use among children (n = 871) born in the Netherlands based on caregiver reports. Caregivers completed a checklist in which they described their child’s sleep problems, and children self-reported any sleep disturbances.

When the children were aged 11 years, the researchers estimated children’s total sleep time, sleep onset latency and wake after sleep onset using a sleep diary and a triaxial wrist accelerometer.

Photo of young boy sleeping 
Source: Adobe Stock

According to the researchers, 6.1% of children used melatonin at least once a week (n = 53), and sleep problems were linked with more frequent use. The researchers did not identify other risk factors for use (P = .005).

Results were “largely unchanged” when Tiemeier and colleagues excluded children with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD (n = 15) from their analysis, they said.

“Children typically need no medication for sleep problems but advice on sleep hygiene and normal sleep patterns,” Tiemeier said. “This advice can include the use of TV, internet or social media, noise reduction, caffeinated drinks and regular bedtimes.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: Tiemeier reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.