Just like adults, kids can have occasional or consistent trouble sleeping. Some of the reasons for childhood insomnia1 might include stress, anxiety, an underlying sleep disorder, screen time, caffeine, or medical or mental health conditions.
The most important thing is to find out what is causing your child’s sleepless nights and work on the root of the problem. If you’ve tried this and they’re still struggling, you might be wondering if it’s time to bring in a sleep aid.
Supplemental melatonin is generally considered safe for adults – but what about for kids? In this article, we’ll answer this question, as well as the recommended dosage for your child depending on their age, along with other important details on melatonin for kids.
Medical disclaimer: please speak with your child’s pediatrician before giving them any melatonin.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
According to Boston Children’s Hospital2, melatonin is generally considered safe for children, with a low likelihood of side effects. That said, it’s important that melatonin is not the only method of addressing their sleeplessness. For example, if your child takes melatonin before bed but then stays on their phone until bedtime, the melatonin likely won’t help.2
It’s also important to note that there isn’t a lot of research out there regarding the long-term effects of melatonin on children. So while most experts agree that short-term use seems safe, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.
Considerations Before Giving Your Kid Melatonin
It’s important to know that melatonin may affect children slightly differently than adults.
- Children already produce more melatonin – Children naturally produce more melatonin3 than adults. The body’s natural melatonin levels are highest between the ages of 8 and 10 until they drop dramatically just before puberty. After that, melatonin levels gradually decrease throughout life.3 Because children already have more melatonin naturally circulating in their systems, it’s important to keep a child’s melatonin dose lower than an adult’s. Otherwise, your child might experience unwanted side effects.
- Melatonin’s effects on puberty are unclear – We mentioned that melatonin levels drop just before puberty, and some experts hypothesize this drop in melatonin may trigger puberty4. Because of this, it’s not very clear whether or not giving your child supplemental melatonin during this time may delay puberty. Boston Children’s Hospital says there is little evidence to point to this, though, and that more research is still needed.2
- Keep the melatonin out of reach – Children under the age of five are more likely to accidentally ingest melatonin, especially in child-friendly forms like gummies.2 If you do decide to give your child melatonin, be sure to store it out of their reach.
- Not all melatonin is created equal – In the U.S. melatonin is available over-the-counter, which means it is not regulated by the FDA5. Because of this, studies have found6 that the actual melatonin levels in certain supplements are very different from what they list on the label. This is why you should buy melatonin supplements that are USP-certified7, which helps ensure that your supplements only contain the ingredients listed on the label.
- Melatonin shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone – Most sleep issues in children have to do with lifestyle and bedtime habits, and using melatonin alone without addressing these underlying issues won’t really help. For example, if your child drinks sodas and looks at a screen until bedtime, you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes before considering melatonin.
- It’s a short-term solution – Since there is a lack of research on melatonin’s long-term effects in children, experts recommend melatonin supplementation as a short-term solution for most kids.2 That said, studies are currently looking at long-term melatonin use for certain pediatric populations8, like those with autism, ADHD, ADD, motor disorders, and specific learning and communication disorders.
- “Immediate-release” won’t help your child stay asleep – Most melatonin supplements are “immediate-release,” meaning all of the melatonin from the supplement is released into the system at once. These may help your child get to sleep, but not necessarily stay asleep.2 There is some evidence to suggest that “extended” or “prolonged release” melatonin may help with nighttime awakenings in children, but oftentimes this requires that your child be able to swallow capsules.2
- Talk to your pediatrician first – Before introducing any new supplements into your child’s regimen, be sure to talk to your pediatrician and get their two cents. They’ll have a personal knowledge of your child’s medical history and can help you decide if melatonin is a good fit for them.
Learn more: A Guide to Melatonin for Kids
What Are the Side Effects of Melatonin for Kids?
When used properly, melatonin seems to have relatively few side effects in children, most of which are minor.2
- Headaches – If your child is experiencing headaches with melatonin, try lowering the dose and make sure they’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
- Increased bedwetting – A deeper sleep may lead to increased bedwetting9 in very young children.
- Nightmares or vivid dreams – Because children already produce more melatonin, giving them supplemental melatonin may increase their risk of nightmares or vivid dreams. Higher levels of melatonin keep us in REM sleep10 longer during the night. REM sleep is the sleep stage when we dream, so it’s possible that this might increase the likelihood of dreaming. However, experts say it’s unclear whether melatonin directly causes vivid dreaming.10
- Dizziness – If your child is dizzy after taking melatonin, it’s likely their dose is too high. Try lowering the dose or discontinuing use.
- Mood changes – Research isn’t currently clear on melatonin’s effect on children’s moods or behaviors11, but a number of studies have looked at the connection between irritability and melatonin production.
- Morning grogginess – Some children may experience morning grogginess with melatonin use. If this happens, you can try lowering the dose, or have your child take the melatonin earlier. Melatonin should be taken about two hours12 before bedtime to match the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Taking it too late may mean it is less effective and could lead to morning grogginess.
All of these side effects should disappear with discontinuation.2
What Dosage of Melatonin Should I Give My Kid?
Experts generally advise taking melatonin at the lowest possible dosage for only a short period, and the proper dosage will depend on their age.2
However, these are general recommendations. We still advise that you speak with your child’s healthcare provider to get their insight as well.
- Under 3: Children under three should not use melatonin as experts say sleep issues during this time are usually behavioral.2
- 3 – 5: Children at this age should take a maximum of 1 milligram of melatonin13.
- 6 – 12: Doctors recommend a maximum of 2.5-3 milligrams of melatonin in children between the ages of 6 and 12.13
- 13 and up: Doctors recommend a maximum of 5 milligrams of melatonin for children 13 and up.13
When Should Kids Not Take Melatonin?
- Their insomnia is situational – For example, if your child is anxious about a test at school, doctors recommend helping them cope with the anxiety rather than turning to a sleep aid.2
- Their sleeplessness is short-term – If the insomnia is caused by something short-term like an ear infection or illness, doctors do not recommend melatonin.2
- Their insomnia stems from an underlying physical issue – If your child has something like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, it’s important to address this root issue rather than trying to treat the symptoms with melatonin.2
- They are under the age of three – Children under three who are healthy and typically developing should not take melatonin.2
- They already sleep just fine: Some pediatric melatonin products are marketed to give children who already sleep fine “better, deeper sleep.” Children who don’t have issues sleeping should not take melatonin.2
- They have a melatonin allergy – If your child has ever had an allergic reaction to melatonin, they should not take these supplements.
- They have liver or kidney problems – The National Health Service advises against taking melatonin for anyone with liver or kidney problems.14
- They have an autoimmune condition – If your child has an autoimmune condition they should avoid melatonin supplements, as they may stimulate inflammation.14 That said, more research is needed in this area.
General Sleep Tips for Kids
Before introducing any sleep aid, including melatonin, experts recommend15 trying out the following behavioral and lifestyle changes to help your child get some sleep.
- Create a consistent sleep routine – Bedtime routines are important for everyone, but especially children. Calming nightly routines like reading (or reading to your child, depending on their age), bathtime, and generally being quieter can prepare your child for sleep.
- Stick to a sleep schedule – If your child is struggling to sleep, it may be time to get stricter about bedtimes. You should make sure your child goes to bed and wakes up at the same time each day (including weekends) to get their sleep schedule on track.
- Avoid naps – Most children start to give up naps between the ages of 3 and 516. If your child is beyond napping age, be sure they’re not taking naps during the day, as this can negatively impact their ability to sleep that night.
- Make sure they’re getting adequate exercise – According to the CDC, children between 3 and 5 years old need to be active throughout the day17, and children between 6 and 17 need at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. The exercise can help them feel more time when it’s time for bed.15
- Screens off – The blue light emitted from screen devices like smartphones and tablets blocks the body’s natural ability to make melatonin. Experts recommend dimming the lights and avoiding screens for two hours before bed, if possible.15
- Create a calming sleep environment – For some older kids, this might mean a completely dark room. For some younger children, this might mean bringing in a nightlight with soft orange or red light, which shouldn’t impact melatonin production18. For children of all ages, the room should be clean and feel peaceful and safe. Additionally, the room should be cool and quiet, and if there is ambient noise, you might consider a white noise machine.
- The bed is for sleep only – Make sure your child isn’t doing their homework or hanging out in bed during the day. The bed should be used just for sleep19, and they should go to bed only when they begin to feel tired.
- Give them a snack – It’s not good to have a heavy meal just before bed, but going to bed hungry can also negatively impact your child’s sleep. Experts recommend a light and healthy snack20 one or two hours before bed. Make sure they’re brushing their teeth afterward.
- Be sure they have a stuffed animal – Research shows that physical sleep aids like stuffed animals21 or “blankies” can help children sleep better by providing comfort.
- Make sure they have a good mattress – Children’s mattresses should be supportive enough that their spine remains in alignment throughout the night while also remaining comfortable for them.
Check out our guide: Best Mattresses for Kids
Melatonin Alternatives for Kids
If you’ve tried the sleep tips above to no avail, and you’re not convinced about melatonin either, there are some melatonin alternatives for kids. It’s important to note that there are no FDA-approved sleep medications22 for children. Always consult your child’s doctor before trying any of these options.
- Antihistamines – Antihistamines23 are over-the-counter medications that are used for allergies, and one of their side effects is drowsiness, so some people use them to treat occasional sleeplessness. However, they should never be used regularly as they may increase depression, anxiety, and weight gain, and could even lead to dementia if taken long-term.23
- Valerian root – Valerian is a plant, and its root has been used for centuries24 to treat insomnia and anxiety, among other things. While there have been studies looking at valerian root in adults, the information on how it affects children is lacking. Side effects may include headache, upset stomach, mental dullness, excitability, and even insomnia in some people.24
- L-theanine – This supplement works by enhancing GABA levels25 in the brain, which tends to feel relaxing and could help with sleep. That said, there is little research available about how L-theanine impacts children.
- Prescription drugs – In some cases, your pediatrician may prescribe your child medications that would ordinarily only be used for adults. Of course, these medications come with their own risks and side effects, so never give your child prescription sleep aids without a doctor’s order.
- Magnesium – Like melatonin, magnesium is another popular sleep supplement. Certain types of magnesium have been shown to induce calmness and sleepiness26 when taken at night, and side effects are minimal, though they may include an upset stomach if taken in too high a quantity. That said, we advise asking your doctor before giving your child any.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a type of therapy that could help children change their beliefs and behaviors27 around sleep, and is an effective long-term insomnia treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to give children melatonin?
Most doctors say that giving your child melatonin should be safe, as long as the dose is appropriate, it is short-term, and any behavioral and lifestyle issues are also addressed.2 That said, research regarding children and melatonin is still lacking.
What can I give my child instead of melatonin?
We first suggest implementing good sleep habits, like a regular bedtime schedule and no screen devices before bed. In terms of supplements, magnesium is another possible option, though it’s important to consult your child’s doctor before giving them any. Certain types of magnesium have been shown to help induce relaxation and sleepiness if taken at night.26
Is melatonin effective for children?
Studies have shown that melatonin can effectively help children fall asleep.13 It’s important to note, though, that it is not a substitute for good sleep hygiene – children will still need to stop using their devices before bed and have a regular sleep schedule, among other healthy habits, to improve their sleep.
Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.
- “Insomnia”. Boston Children’s Hospital. Webpage accessed January 5, 2024.
- Fliesler, Nancy. “Melatonin for kids: Is it effective? Is it safe?”. Boston Children’s Hospital. 2022.
- Poza, J.J., et al. “Melatonin in sleep disorders”. Neurología. 2022.
- Boafo, Addo., et al. “Could long-term administration of melatonin to prepubertal children affect timing of puberty? A clinician’s perspective”. Nature and Science of Sleep. 2019.
- Savage, Rosemary A., et. al. “Melatonin”. StatPearls. 2022.
- Erland, Lauren A.E., Saxena, Praveen K. “Melatonin Natural Health Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and Significant Variability of Melatonin Content”. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2017.
- “USP Verified Mark”. USP.org. Webpage accessed January 5, 2024.
- Yuge, Kotaro., et al. “Long-term melatonin treatment for the sleep problems and aberrant behaviors of children with neurodevelopmental disorders”. BMC Psychiatry. 2020.
- Godoy, Maria. “What parents need to know before giving kids melatonin”. NPR. 2023.
- “Can Melatonin Cause Bad Dreams? What Experts Say”. Cleveland Clinic. 2021.
- Paribello, Pasquale., et al. “Melatonin and aggressive behavior: A systematic review of the literature on preclinical and clinical evidence”. Journal of Pineal Research. 2022.
- “Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Webpage accessed January 5, 2024.
- Janjua MD, Irvin., Goldman MD, Ran D. “Sleep-related melatonin use in healthy children”. Canadian Family Physician. 2016.
- “Who can and cannot take melatonin”. National Health Service. Last modified February 13, 2023.
- McCarthy MD, Claire. “New advice on melatonin use in children”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2022.
- McCarthy MD, Claire. “Naps: Make the most of them and know when to stop them”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021.
- “How much physical activity do children need?”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified June 30, 2023.
- Figueiro, Mariana G., et al. “Effects of red light on sleep inertia”. Nature and Science of Sleep. 2019.
- Rossman PhD, Jeffrey. “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia: An Effective and Underutilized Treatment for Insomnia”. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2019.
- “Sleep Tips for Children”. Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Webpage accessed January 6, 2024.
- Golem, Devon., et al. “‘My stuffed animals help me’: the importance, barriers, and strategies for adequate sleep behaviors of school-age children and parents”. Sleep Health. 2019.
- Arky, Beth. “How to Help Kids Who Have Trouble Sleeping”. Child Mind Institute. Last modified October 30, 2023.
- “Antihistamines”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified July 13, 2020.
- “Valerian”. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Last modified October 2020.
- Dasdelen, Muhammed Furkan., et al. “A Novel Theanine Complex, Mg-l-Theanine Improves Sleep Quality via Regulating Brain Electrochemical Activity”. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2022.
- Allen, Mary J., Sharma, Sandeep. “Magnesium”. StatPearls. Last modified February 20, 2023.
- “Insomnia treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy instead of sleeping pills”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified April 5, 2023.