Children younger than the age of 3 have “unformed neurological and endocrine systems,” so parents are advised to wait until then before giving them melatonin.
In today's time, sleep has become a luxury of sorts. Very few fall asleep the minute their heads touch the pillow. But people who struggle with insomnia find respite in pills and supplements—melatonin being one such supplement that has gained popularity in recent times.
According to Mayo Clinic, "Melatonin is a hormone in your body that plays a role in sleep. The production and release of melatonin in the brain is connected to time of day, increasing when it's dark and decreasing when it's light."
Melatonin is also available as a supplement commonly used by people to address sleep disorders. They are easily available over-the-counter and comes in different forms like pill, liquid, and gummies. Melatonin sales in the US surged 150% between 2016 and 2020 in response to public demand.
However, it is now proving to have serious consequences for children who either accidentally take them or are given to them by a caregiver. Melatonin overdoses in kids skyrocketed in the last decade, a CDC report revealed.
Calls to poison control centers about kids who took too much melatonin rose by 530 percent in 10 years. From 8,000 calls in 2012, it took a massive leap to 52,000 in 2021. The largest yearly increase occurred between 2019 to 2020, during the pandemic, reports Insider.
Melatonin overdose reports are up. https://t.co/aUye1IZrZV— NYC EMS Watch (@NYCEMSwatch) June 3, 2022
Last year, U.S. poison control centers received more than 52,000 calls about children consuming too much Melatonin.
Dr. Ritwick Agrawal, a sleep medicine specialist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, believes the rise in usage of melatonin largely increased due to the lack of sleep in adults, mostly due to the pandemic and the uncertainty that came with it.
"I'm also an ICU doctor and I end up seeing a lot of poisonings in my practice, and in general, I've not seen a whole lot of melatonin overdose [in adults], but in children, I can easily imagine," Agrawal said. "Even a small overdose can cause a lot of problems."
There were a few serious cases including five children who required mechanical ventilation. Two babies aged 3 months and 13 months died at their homes. One ingestion involved intentional medication misuse; the reason for the other is unknown, the report noted.
The researchers said child-resistant packaging for melatonin “should be considered” and that healthcare providers need to better warn parents about the supplement’s “potential toxic consequences.”
The study’s lead researcher Dr. Karima Lelak, who is a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit told BuzzFeed News that melatonin is not as harmless as people consider it to be, and that safe storage is absolutely critical.
Melatonin gummies can look like candy and can therefore be considered safe for children.
“Parents should really see melatonin just as any other medication that has the potential to do harm to kids, and it can be even more dangerous because it can look like candy. If a parent takes their melatonin after reading this paper and puts it in their medicine cabinet, I am humbled because I think that's really a big take-home point: safe storage,” Lelak said
Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, previously told the outlet that parents should wait until their kids are at least 3 years old before giving them melatonin because children younger than that have “unformed neurological and endocrine systems.”
Also, speak to a pediatrician before you have your kids take these pills. According to Lelak, it's difficult to say how much is too much and this will depend on how old someone is if they're showing any symptoms after ingestion, and their body size. Experts urge that parents call poison control at 1-800-222-1222 if they suspect their kids of having taken melatonin.
It's always best to be safe than sorry, so make sure you keep these gummies and pills in places that are hard to reach for children.
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Douglas Sacha