Although the long-term effects of melatonin in school-aged children are unknown, its use is common in this population, according to the findings of a recently published cross-sectional study.

The study included children from the Generation R Study, which took place in the Netherlands and evaluated the use of melatonin and its effect on subjective sleep and sleep parameters. After evaluating caregiver-reported melatonin use, the authors used logistic regression analyses to determine associations between melatonin use and sleep.  

“Primary caregivers indicated children’s use of sleep medication (type and frequency throughout 6 months) when children were aged 11 years,” the authors explained, adding that, “sleep problems were reported by the primary caregiver using the Child Behavior Checklist for Ages 6-18 (5 items) and by the child using the Sleep Disturbance Scale for Children (6 items) when children were aged 10 years.” Additionally, a sleep diary and triaxial wrist accelerometers were used to estimate total sleep time, sleep onset latency, and wake after sleep onset. 

Of the total 871 children included in the study (average age: 11.7 years old; 52.2% female), 6.1% (n=53; 1 in 17 children) reported using melatonin at least once weekly during the previous 6 months. Findings of the study also revealed an association between more melatonin use and caregiver- and child-reported sleep problems. 

In an analysis that excluded children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or autism spectrum disorder (n=15), no significant differences in the study’s results were observed except that melatonin use was now associated with sleep diary-estimated total sleep time. 

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“Longitudinal and well-controlled studies are urgently needed to identify the effectiveness and potential negative consequences of melatonin use in children,” the authors stated. They added, “This would provide the evidence to formulate clinical guidelines for the indication and dosage of melatonin in children, which is a pressing issue as melatonin is currently freely available.”

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