DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is it OK to give my teenage daughter melatonin to help her sleep better? I’ve read that it’s a safe alternative to sleep medicines.
ANSWER: Although melatonin has been shown to be useful for treating sleep problems in adults, it has not been carefully studied in children. Due to the lack of scientific evidence, and because of some potentially harmful side effects, melatonin is not recommended as a sleep aid for children and teens. Making lifestyle changes that can enhance healthy sleep is a better alternative for most people your daughter’s age.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain’s pineal gland. Melatonin appears to be linked to the body’s sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. The release of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light. The levels of melatonin in your blood are highest just before you go to sleep.
Some research suggests that, in adults, melatonin supplements might be helpful in treating jet lag or reducing the time it takes to fall asleep. The most common side effects from taking melatonin are daytime sleepiness, dizziness and headaches. Less common side effects can include abdominal pain, mild anxiety, irritability, confusion and feelings of depression. It’s not known how common or severe these side effects might be in children.
Another concern about using melatonin for children is that its effects on the body go beyond sleep. It also plays a role in the way a person’s body matures sexually. Melatonin levels have an impact on how the ovaries and testes function. Further study is needed to determine if taking melatonin during childhood or the teen years can have an impact on a person’s sexual development.
Instead of using melatonin — or trying other sleep medications — I recommend you and your daughter first consider why she’s having trouble sleeping. Getting a good night’s sleep is a challenge for many teenagers, and lifestyle choices can have a dramatic impact on sleep.