Melatonin is commonly prescribed to adults with sleep disturbances, yet doctors are increasingly prescribing it to children; something researchers say may be a dangerous move.
In a new reportpublished this month in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, Australian researchers indicate that side effects of melatonin may cause children to suffer serious cardiovascular, immune and metabolic problems, recommending against children using it for sleep problems.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland at night in response to the circadian rhythm of the body, the body’s internal clock that manages the sleep-wake cycles in a 24-hour period. It takes light information received by the retina and produces melatonin accordingly.
However, some patients who have trouble sleeping, are frequent travelers between time zones, or have sleep phase disorder, respond well to melatonin supplements. Melatonin is thought by many to be a natural sleep aid, compared to the many drug supplements which can produce a dependency.
David Kennaway, lead researcher of the report and head of the Circadian Physiology Laboratory at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, said melatonin can be dangerous for children to take.
When given to adults, melatonin often makes it easier for an adult to fall asleep. However, Kennaway warns that among children, it may lead to serious problems as the child grows.
Not Approved For Pediatric Use
Researchers noted that in Australia melatonin is registered as a drug for people over the age of 55, however it is not registered for use in children anywhere in the world, including the United States. Yet, melatonin is often prescribed to children for off-label use.
Melatonin also has no undergone formal safety testing typical of new drugs. Long-term safety testing in kids also has not been conducted, and is of particular concern.
Researchers are especially concerned about the effects the drug has on the cardiovascular, immune and metabolic systems of children. They also note, the hormone has been known to produce serious side effects concerning the reproductive systems of rodents, sheep and primates.
“Considering the small advances melatonin provides to the timing of sleep, and considering what we know about how melatonin works in the body, it is not worth the risk to child and adolescent safety,” said Kennaway.
They warn doctors against prescribing it in children and parents to be particularly concerned since it has the potential to have serious interactions with other medications often prescribed to children.
Researchers emphasized there is not enough known about melatonin and its effects on children for it to be commonly used. More research should be done to see how it may interact with other drugs or affect a child’s body.