Surge in child melatonin overdoses leads to call for safer packaging

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 530% rise in melatonin overdoses among children over the past decade

Melatonin supplements, particularly the yummy, gummy kind, are a popular quick fix for children’s sleep issues. However, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 530% rise in melatonin overdoses among children over the past decade, leading to increased emergency room visits and poison center calls.

To combat this issue, the Council for Responsible Nutrition is urging melatonin manufacturers to implement stricter safety measures. These include child-resistant packaging and clearer labels warning against potential drowsiness, advising intermittent use and highlighting the risks of combining with alcohol, the CRN stated in a press release. The guidelines also give special attention to gummy products because of their appeal to children.

Melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep, is available as an over-the-counter supplement in the United States. However, its accessibility doesn’t mean it can be consumed without caution. CDC data indicate approximately 11,000 ER visits by children aged 5 and under from 2019 to 2022 were because of unsupervised ingestion of melatonin. Additionally, in 2021 alone, the CDC report found poison control centers received more than 50,000 calls related to children consuming melatonin.

While generally considered safe for short-term use in adults, the long-term effects of melatonin, especially in children, are not well-known, according to Manisha Malik, MD, neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“Melatonin falls under the category of dietary supplement, so regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not as stringent. It is regulated for safety, but it does not go through the rigorous approval process like medications do,” Malik explained.

If a child consumes melatonin without adult supervision, immediate medical attention is crucial. Watch for symptoms such as stomach pain, sweating, restlessness and an increased heart rate, advised Parents magazine.

“You always want to use any medication exposure as an opportunity to really teach that child about medication, that it should only be given by an adult, is not candy and can have consequences both good and bad,” Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OB-GYN and obesity medicine physician, said to “Good Morning America.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends any melatonin use in children should be overseen by a pediatrician. And to prevent accidents, always store medications out of reach and discuss safety with your children in an age-appropriate manner.