Any parent knows the challenges that can sometimes occur when trying to get their children to sleep.
So it’s hardly surprising that sales of chewable tablets containing the sleep hormone melatonin have steadily increased in recent years.
Known as melatonin gummies, these tablets are becoming popular sleep aids for both kids and adults in North America, Australia and Europe.
But we still don’t know the long-term impacts of consuming extra levels of melatonin – especially when it comes to children.
So while a bottle of melatonin gummies can be bought for as little as £10 from Amazon, scientists say you should approach with caution.
In fact, one expert suggests the only real time that children can be given the gummies is if they are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
‘For children who have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or Smith Magenis Syndrome, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia recommends melatonin – but that this should be prescribed by a health professional only, and should only be used when sleep hygiene measures have been insufficient,’ explained Sarah Blunden, Professor and Head of Paediatric Sleep Research at CQUniversity, Australia.
‘But the TGA does not recommend melatonin for children who do not have autism spectrum disorder or Smith Magenis Syndrome.
‘This is mainly because there is a lack of long-term research, and because most child sleep problems can typically be managed with behavioural and psychological sleep techniques, instead of drugs.’
Professor Blunden says she has spent 15 years researching, diagnosing and treating children sleep problems and difficulties.
And, in her opinion, gummies shouldn’t be handed out to otherwise healthy children without consulting a medical professional first.
‘There are very few long-term research studies on this question and even less on the question of quality and safety of melatonin bought online,’ she wrote.
‘One Canadian study investigated 31 brands of melatonin supplements. The researchers found huge inconsistencies in the labelled amount of active melatonin and a contaminant (in this case, serotonin) in 26% of the supplements.
‘In other words, the exact quality or quantity of melatonin present in gummies may be unknown.
‘Before considering melatonin or any other sedative, ask your health-care provider about behavioural techniques you can use to promote healthy sleep habits.
‘Behavioural techniques are well documented, successful and effective in children from infancy to adolescence.’
If you need more information, here are 6 things to try when your child refuses to go to sleep.