Melatonin to Improve Sleep
Medicine

Melatonin For Kids Could Delay Puberty

Melatonin has become a buzz word for parents trying to wind their busy kids down. For others, it is seen as a supplement to decrease symptoms or improve serotonin. However, what are the benefits? More importantly, what are the consequences of giving melatonin to kids?

Melatonin is the natural hormone the brain produces to help us sleep. It is commonly used in supplements designed to aid sleep, and these supplements have seen increasing use over the recent years. Sold over the counter melatonin pills typically have few side effects and only around 1 in 1000 people experience any adverse effects from taken them; even then symptoms are mild and almost never serious. This low-risk of experiencing adverse effects, together with it’s undeniable effectiveness, has made melatonin an extremely popular supplement to help promote better sleep, especially in children who’re have trouble nodding off at night.

However, whilst the seemingly harmless medication is has seen an increase in popularity amongst parents looking to help their children sleep, recent studies suggest that it might actually cause additional health problems that could have been overlooked, and these problems appear to related to puberty. According to a study published in the Lancet July 2023, melatonin can cause delays to pubertal development, and may also interfere with bone metabolism.

Should Your Give Your Kids Melatonin for Sleep?

It’s common knowledge that sleep plays an important role in staying fit and healthy. It is essentially when the body repairs itself, and without such recovery time, can cause all manner of ailments and conditions to begin developing. Reports show an estimated 15-20% of children have problems falling to sleep, and staying asleep, and as a result, many parents are now opting to administer melatonin to their children, to combat this problem.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) around 46% of parents give melatonin to their children (under 13), and up to 30% give it to their teens. It is also common for parents to give melatonin to children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and ADHD. Although these conditions are extremely different, both cause problems with sleeps, and therefore the sleep properties of melatonin are often employed to help treat these symptoms.

Parents see melatonin as a way of treating a symptom. However, it may not address the underlying issue. Is combating one problem simply raising another? And are there any safer alternatives your child could try instead of using melatonin?

Melatonin Research

Currently, there is little research on the long-term effects of melatonin use in children. Some experts question if melatonin, because it is a hormone, can affect other hormonal development in adolescents.
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Does Melatonin Delay Puberty in Children?

Melatonin has been marketed for use in adults since 2007, but for children only since 2018. Therefore any long-term effects are yet to be fully understood. However, recent studies looking into this data suggest melatonin can have several adverse effects, including delay in puberty and bone mineralization and metabolism.

According to the July 2023 Lancet study published by the EU, European assessment report, long-term use of melatonin may cause a delay in puberty as a result of increasing melatonin levels; prior to puberty onset these levels drop, should these levels remain high, onset may also be delayed. Reports also outline the risk of improper bone development; since disruptions in melatonin regulation during puberty can adversely affect bone mineralization.

It should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate melatonin. On the other hand it’s also important to note that some doctors do officially recommend melatonin to treat children with insomnia and other sleep disorders. If you’re one of the parents who decided to give melatonin to their children and are worried this will, or has, interfered with puberty, then don’t worry. The drug does fall into the low-risk category, so if you have been administering it to your children, or yourself; simply ceasing your self-prescribed course should quickly reverse any negative effects the drug may have caused. If symptoms persist then see a doctor.

With these previously unknown effects that could arise from long-term use of melatonin, parents will likely be in search of a less harmful alternative.

Is that even possible we hear you say? Yes it is; fortunately there are a number of non-phramacological solutions that can be taken as an alternative to melatonin.

 

Non-Pharmacological Alternatives to Melatonin

When it comes to treating sleep, there are a number of natural remedies that could offer an effective alternative to taking medication. Non-pharmacological alternatives that may be suitable for treating children suffering from insomnia or other sleep disorders include:

Dietary Supplement Alternatives to Melatonin

Magnesium
Magnesium is perhaps the most effect alternative to taking melatonin for sleep. It’s extremely easy to add to your diet as it can be found in many foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, whole grains, and beans. It is also available like other dietary supplements in pills, and powder form.

Magnesium is a neurotransmitter that aids relaxation by stimulating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA); an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows certain brain functions. To achieve this GABA promotes the production of serotonin and melatonin, which in turn relaxes the muscles and reduces inflammation.

Magnesium is also safe to take together with melatonin for maximum effectiveness. Just be sure to only take melatonin for the advised period of time, as adverse effects tend to occur after prolonged use.

Pros and Cons Of Taking Melatonin

Although the recent research may suggest some previously unknown disadvantages of taking melatonin; it’s not all bad news. Dr. Sherri Neustein, a board-certified pediatrician, says that melatonin is suitable for short-term use, but should not be taken enough to become part of the child’s bedtime routine:

“Melatonin will get most children to sleep…

“However, it’s meant to be used for a short time while creating better bedtime habits.”

Advantages of Taking Melatonin for Sleep

  • Effective, safe way to aid sleep; for short term use only
  • Treat insomnia and/or day time sleepiness
  • Suitable for children as young as 1 year old; in low doses
  • Suitable for children with ASD or ADHD
  • Low risks of side effects

Disadvantages of Taking Melatonin for Sleep

  • Not FDA approved
  • May cause side effects such as headaches, dizziness & nausea
  • Can make you lethargic
  • Prolonged use may cause delay in puberty

Points to Note About Self-Medicating Your Child

An increasing number of parents are choosing to treat a wide range of different ailments and conditions by self-medicating their children at home; and in many cases there’s nothing wrong with this, especially when all the risks are understood and commonly accepted guidelines are followed.

Compared to many other medications, melatonin might not pose the most serious health risks, however, just like any drug, it is important to know exactly what it can, and is likely, to do to your child, depending on their specific health status and situation.

If you’re looking for a safe alternative to melatonin in order to help your child sleep, then magnesium might just be the solution for you. Easy to consume and as safe as any dietary supplement can be, magnesium has sleep properties that rival melatonin, without posing any of the long terms risks scientists now associate with long term use of the popular sleeping aid.