It's 10 p.m. and your kid is standing at the top of the stairs in a Darth Vader costume, singing “Let It Go” at the top of his lungs. You’ll do almost anything to get him to go the eff to sleep. Could melatonin supplements do the trick? The Mayo Clinic says they’re totally fine for adults, but what about for your little Darth? You can find them at the drugstore, but are melatonin gummies for kids actually safe? We asked surgeon Amir Marashi, M.D. and pediatrician Rosemary Prince, M.D., F.A.A.P. of ProHEALTH Pediatric Urgent Care of Yorkville, to weigh in.
So, are melatonin gummies safe?
Technically, melatonin gummies are considered safe for kids, but that doesn’t mean all doctors are on board with them. Melatonin is a hormone, and it might interact with other hormones in small, developing bodies. The truth is that there haven’t been many studies on melatonin use in children, so many of the questions—like the long-term effects—remain unanswered.
“Melatonin supplements also aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.,” Dr. Prince says. “Melatonin might possibly interact with any other medication your child is on, and there are many variabilities in the ingredients and formulations of these over-the-counter products, so you don’t always know how much of what you might be taking. Melatonin can also cause side effects like headache, dizziness, increased urination at night and nausea.”
Why a gummy in the first place?
Remember those huge, chalky pills we took as kids? There’s a reason they went out of style. Gummies are a sweet, easy and chewable way to get kids to take their vitamins because, um, they are delicious. It’s a smart and intentional marketing move, but therein lies the problem.
“Children are impressionable, and it’s not an unfair assumption to think they could become desensitized to the purpose of the gummy and only think of it like it’s a regular gummy bear that is candy,” Dr. Marashi says. “While parents should be able to regulate how many gummies their children take and when they take them, it could present itself as confusing to a younger child.”
Are melatonin gummies ever OK to give to a child?
Under specific circumstances—let’s say you’ve tried every lifestyle change in the book, from eliminating screens an hour before bed to utilizing a light box—your child’s pediatrician might recommend melatonin. If she does, she’ll give you a recommended dosage, but Dr. Prince advises starting with the lowest dosage available (0.5 milligrams) at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Dr. Marashi adds that he’s reluctant to advise a parent to give their child melatonin because of the very thing it’s designed to do: make you sleepy. He says that as an adult, you can fully wrap your mind around the effects of the supplement and understand that it will make you tired and the feeling may linger the following morning and into the day. It might also make you irritable because you’re extra tired, and these symptoms in combination could make you feel depressed. Kids, however, don’t always have the capacity for these feelings.
“An adult taking the gummies would have developed an ability to be self-aware and recognize a shift in mood or behavior,” Dr. Marashi says. “Children might not recognize that they are experiencing a depressive episode, or even be able to know what depression is, which could perpetuate the problem.”
What are my other options?
We all have our quirks when it comes to sleep (anyone else need to have one leg out of the comforter?) and kids are no exception. It’s important to make sure your children have everything they might need in order to fall asleep before resorting to supplements and medication.
Dr. Prince suggests asking yourself the following questions: Does your child have a solid bedtime routine? Is their room a comfortable temperature and free of noise? Are they away from screens for an hour before they hop into bed? Do they have too much sugar or caffeine during the day? Are they getting enough exercise? Do they wind down at the end of the day and talk with you about any worries or concerns they might be feeling? A few small adjustments can go a long way.
Bottom line: Stop letting your kiddo watch Star Wars and Frozen right before bed. And if that doesn’t work, talk to your kid’s pediatrician before doling out the gummies.