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Thousands of kids are taking melatonin unsupervised — ER visits have quadrupled

Emergency room visits from children accidentally eating melatonin have quadrupled in the last decade, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Emergency room visits from children accidentally eating melatonin have quadrupled in the last decade, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emergency room visits from children accidentally eating melatonin have quadrupled in the last decade, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Melatonin is a hormone triggered by darkness that regulates the body’s natural sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. Supplements of the natural compound are commonly used as a sleep aid.

About 11,000 children 5 and younger (7%) landed in the emergency room between 2019 and 2022 after ingesting the sleepy time supplement while unsupervised, the CDC reported Thursday.

About 11,000 children 5 and younger (7%) landed in the emergency room between 2019 and 2022 after ingesting the sleepy time supplement while unsupervised, the CDC reported. spotmatikphoto – stock.adobe.com
About 11,000 children 5 and younger (7%) landed in the emergency room between 2019 and 2022 after ingesting the sleepy time supplement while unsupervised, the CDC reported. spotmatikphoto – stock.adobe.com

Melatonin use among American adults quintupled from 0.4% from 1999 to 2000 to 2.1% from 2017 to 2018, as did calls to poison control centers for pediatric melatonin exposures from 2012 to 2021, the CDC warned.

ER visits for unsupervised melatonin ingestion by infants and young children quadrupled from 2009 to 2020, the agency said.

Melatonin is a hormone triggered by darkness that regulates the body’s natural sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. Supplements of the natural compound are commonly used as a sleep aid. Tamara Beckwith
Melatonin is a hormone triggered by darkness that regulates the body’s natural sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. Supplements of the natural compound are commonly used as a sleep aid. Tamara Beckwith

The CDC warned that at least half of the ER visits for children’s melatonin ingestion involved flavored products — such as fruit gummies or chewable tablets — that may appear to be mistaken for candies.

The report also noted that melatonin products are not required to have child-resistant packaging — about three-quarters of incidents involved melatonin in bottles.

Fortunately, very few of these cases resulted in hospitalizations.

The safety of melatonin use among children is unclear — consumption can lead to headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, agitation, increased nighttime urination or bedwetting, possible disruption of normal hormone levels and interference with puberty, according to the Sleep Foundation.

Emergency room visits for unsupervised melatonin ingestion by infants and young children quadrupled from 2009 to 2020, the CDC said. Halfpoint – stock.adobe.com
Emergency room visits for unsupervised melatonin ingestion by infants and young children quadrupled from 2009 to 2020, the CDC said. Halfpoint – stock.adobe.com

Experts have noted that more research is needed to determine if the supervised use of melatonin for children is safe or necessary.

As a supplement, melatonin is not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Research published in JAMA last year found that several products labeled as melatonin gummies contained dangerous levels of the hormone, while others instead contained cannabidiol, or CBD.

While the recent CDC report highlighted data about children ingesting melatonin unsupervised, a growing number of parents are allowing their youngsters to take the supplement to drift off to sleep.

One report found that almost half of American parents have given their children melatonin to sleep while another reported that nearly one in five American children are being given melatonin gummies and tablets by their parents — despite expert warnings.