More and more families are turning to over-the-counter medications such as melatonin to help their child sleep. In one Canadian study 80% of children with underlying mental health difficulties, and 70% of children who were healthy reported difficulties both with getting to sleep, and staying asleep. Of these children 20% had been given over the counter sleep medication by a parent, and 4% had an active prescription from a doctor.
While this blog post is not set out to alarm any parents it's important to realise that most over the counter medication used to aid sleep - including melatonin hasn't been tested that thoroughly on children. Small studies (using 20 or less participants), have been tested on children with ADHD, ASC and/or sleep disorders but hardly anything on children without these mental health difficulties.
Importantly when it comes to the nitty gritty i.e., the child actually having more sleep research has shown that yes most children on melatonin do fall asleep faster than without but it does not decrease the numbers of times they wake up in the night, and they're more likely to wake up even earlier the next day....
What is a little concerning is that there has been (and continues to be), a lot of research which shows the real, and high risk of exacerbating; seizure threshold, asthma attack thresholds, depression, and immunological disease. This is particularly concerning for those children who have ASC where epilepsy, and difficulties with emotion regulation are common - two things which can be increased due to medicinal doses of melatonin (Wright. B., et al., 2011).
While the answer to the question - is it OK to use melatonin long term cannot really be answered yet because there hasn't been enough research, and it hasn't really been used long enough there are a few take away points to consider.
Did you know before age 10 children need roughly 11-12 hours sleep per night, and teenagers need up to 16 hours?