The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises parents to talk to a doctor before giving melatonin or any supplement to children (Shutterstock)

Melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, in order to help sleep and regulate its hours, so melatonin levels rise at night with dark, and then gradually decrease with sunrise, accelerating wakefulness.

But this natural cycle is disrupted in some people, especially children, and children's sleep disorder is a nightmare for their parents, who endure this hardship, hoping that things will improve over time, or by introducing some dietary and behavioral changes, before resorting to consulting a doctor.

Melatonin.. Dietary supplement or medicine?

The product melatonin has spread in the global market between the past five and ten years, and a special online market has flourished, for products aimed at children, in the form of gummies, sweetened drinks, and flavorings.

Melatonin is considered a dietary supplement in most countries of the world, but it is only available by prescription in Japan, Australia, Britain and the European Union, after the European Medicines Agency approved its use in 2018 to treat sleep disorders, in children with neurological and psychiatric disorders only.

The American and East Asian market is the largest consumer of sleep treatments, according to the 2023 Statista report, and the Arab market is still growing, and melatonin has spread in pharmacies and Arab electronic markets, without a prescription.

This free spread was accompanied by warnings from Arab Food and Drug Authorities and pediatricians against taking melatonin without direct nomination from a doctor, in addition to the spread of corporate sales representatives to private Arab groups on Facebook for mothers of children with autism and hyperactivity disorder, to promote the over-the-counter melatonin supplement.

Children's sleep disorder is a nightmare for their parents (Shutterstock)

There is still no Arab statistic of melatonin prevalence among children, but a comparison of prevalence rates can be made between two models, the first of which includes "melatonin" under dietary supplements, while the second restricts it to the necessity of a prescription.

New research by the University of Colorado, published in mid-November, reported that nearly one in 5 school-age and teenage American children take melatonin to sleep, and some parents routinely give the supplement to preschoolers.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advised parents to talk to a doctor before giving melatonin or any supplement to children, especially with little evidence that taking it as a supplement is effective in treating insomnia in healthy children.

On the other hand, a Dutch study estimated the prevalence of melatonin use in Eastern Europe, at 6% among school-age children, suggesting that one in 17 children is likely to take melatonin at least once a week.

Is melatonin safe for babies?

A scientific study has not yet confirmed the effectiveness of long-term use of melatonin, and its side effects, however, a Swedish study that spanned between 2016 and 2019 confirmed the prevalence of continuing melatonin therapy among children aged 6 to 12 years, for more than 3 years, and even increased the dose of melatonin prescribed to them by 50% and 100%, respectively.

In 2017, Canadian researchers examined samples of melatonin supplement produced by 31 different companies, equivalent to 71% of the brand names of melatonin supplements, and discovered that the percentage of active melatonin ranges from 27% to 478% of the percentage on the label, and monitored the largest variation rates of the active ingredient in children's gummies.

A quarter of the samples also contained the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is used to treat neurological disorders and is supposed to be a pharmacologically controlled ingredient.

The US Center for Disease Control revealed that the rates of child use of the melatonin supplement rose to 530%, from 2012 to 2021.

Melatonin use in children rises to 530% from 2012 to 2021 (Shutterstock)

Mothers in need of a solution

The problem of sleep is complicated among children with neurological disorders, such as autism, attention deficit disorder, and hyperactivity, and these children continue to struggle with sleep until and possibly after their teenage years.

"Asma" was among the mothers of children on the autism spectrum who spoke to "Al", the child "Asma" suffered from sleep difficulties since the age of 4 years, until a neurologist advised her to use "melatonin" at a reduced dose, so she consulted several doctors to reassure that the drug is free of addictive components, and confirmed "Asma", to "Al Jazeera. Net" positive her child's experience with "melatonin" 3.5 years ago, with the doctor increasing the dose the less effective.

However, Sama, a mother of a child with autism spectrum, did not try long for melatonin supplement, due to its short action and the frequent need to increase the dose, prompting the private doctor to replace another drug with it.

While "Sarah" confirmed, to "Al Jazeera. Net" consulted her child's doctor, about the effectiveness of "melatonin" after reading the comments of mothers and their experiences with the magic pill, but the doctor denied the need for her child, especially with her response to strict rules applied by "Sarah" that include prohibiting her child's sleep during the day, and practicing motor activities during the day, which ensured good results after 3 months regularity.

But the behavioral changes were not enough to improve the quality of sleep of the child "Zahia", who suffers from impulsive movement disorder, and the child continued to suffer with insomnia, especially with "Zahia" severe fear of her child taking any unnecessary pill, even if it was nominated by a doctor, until the child underwent a proper medical diagnosis, and insomnia decreased, without the use of melatonin.

In this regard, Harvard magazine published a set of tips for the mother before using melatonin, including:

  • Prevent sleeping during the day, even if the child did not sleep well the night before.
  • Block screens two hours before bedtime.
  • Prohibition of sitting or playing on beds during the day.

If you decide to use melatonin, choose a product labeled "USP Verified", to ensure its quality.

Source : Al Jazeera + Websites