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A recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder raises concerns about the growing use of the sleep hormone melatonin among young children, with nearly 20% of school-aged children and preteens in the United States, including preschoolers, now using it for sleep. The researchers express serious concerns about the safety and understanding of melatonin products in this demographic.

Melatonin use among children on the rise

According to lead author Lauren Hartstein, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Sleep and Development Lab at CU Boulder their paper aims to raise awareness among parents, clinicians, and the scientific community. While not asserting that melatonin is inherently harmful to children, the researchers emphasize the need for extensive research before confidently deeming it safe for long-term use by kids.

Melatonin signals the body’s preparedness for sleep. While it is considered a prescription drug in some countries, it is available over the counter in the US, commonly in child-friendly gummy forms.

In a 2023 survey of 1,000 parents, researchers discovered that 18.5% of 5 to 9-year-olds and 19.4% of 10 to 13-year-olds had used melatonin in the past month. Surprisingly, nearly 6% of preschoolers under four also used melatonin, often for a year.

Available gummies have varying melatonin levels

There’s a significant concern about unreliable labeling, as 22 out of 25 melatonin gummy products analyzed had varying melatonin amounts, and one had triple the labeled dose. Some supplements even contained worrisome substances like serotonin.

In 2022, there was a surge in parents giving melatonin to healthy children which has raised concerns. Lauren Hartstein, a researcher at CU Boulder, notes that parents may not fully understand the impact of these supplements. This trend could imply that a pill is the solution to sleep problems, overlooking underlying issues. The widespread use of melatonin suggests a need to address root causes of sleep problems in children.

The use of melatonin in children raises concerns about its impact on puberty and overdose risks due to its candy-like appearance. Dr. Julie Boergers warns of potential risks of unsupervised melatonin use, despite its short-term benefits under medical supervision for certain cases.