Melatonin gummy bears for kids to get them to sleep? The doctor warns of the consequences

It sounds like a simple and harmless method intended to make life easier for parents: giving children melatonin gummies to help them fall asleep faster. The subject is currently hotly debated after American actress Kirsten Bell revealed in an interview that she gives her seven- and nine-year-old daughters melatonin gummy bears at night. “It just hits them faster and they feel great,” the 42-year-old said.

Videos have since appeared on TikTok and other social platforms of children allegedly falling asleep faster thanks to the melatonin gummy bears. A trend seems to be emerging.

Dietary supplements containing melatonin available online

Products specifically tailored for children are available on the Internet that are said to help them fall asleep “naturally” thanks to the added melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that the body normally produces itself, and which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It is produced in the brain, especially when it is dark.

There are melatonin medicines that are approved in Germany, but also melatonin-containing food supplements that are not to be sold in pharmacies. Since melatonin is an endogenous hormone, and the products are also sold in pharmacies, one can give the impression that it is a gentle and harmless remedy that can also be given to children.

Paediatrician: Melatonin is a drug – long-term effects have not yet been studied

But is a sleep-inducing drug really that harmless for children in everyday life? Mirja Quante is a senior physician in the neonatology department and head of the children’s sleep laboratory at the University Hospital in Tübingen. When asked about the melatonin gummy bears, she told FOCUS Online: “This is definitely not the right way”

Melatonin is a fantastic drug in itself and is also the first choice in pediatrics for sleep because it has few unwanted effects and does not have a major influence on sleep itself, i.e. the sleep architecture.

“We therefore like to use melatonin, but never alone – it always contains sleep advice. We only use it for a short time because it is and will be a medicine. And while melatonin has few adverse effects, we still have no long-term experience with it, especially in childhood. For example, there is evidence that melatonin can also affect our immune system. And so I would be careful about that.”

Parents should check sleep hygiene before resorting to medication

Instead of administering melatonin to children on their own, parents should first ask themselves a few important questions, Quante believes: “If I’m having trouble getting my children to sleep at night, the first thing I should ask myself is : How is it really? with sleep hygiene? This means, for example:

  • Do I have a reliable daily structure?
  • What are the children’s sleep needs?
  • Does my child take a late afternoon nap and is therefore not tired in the evening?
  • Do I have a good routine, for example an evening ritual with always the same processes as reading a bedtime story?”

If families have widely varying bedtimes, and these do not correspond to the children’s sleep needs, there can certainly be problems falling asleep, the expert explains. “Sometimes there are also clinical images behind it. It would be fatal if, for example, a child had a sleep-disordered breathing disorder and you just self-medicated to get the child to sleep.’

Get to the bottom of the causes of sleep problems first

Sleep-related fears should also be taken seriously and the affected child should be accompanied. It is always important to get to the bottom of the cause of the sleep problems and consider: Why does the child have problems falling asleep? Or why doesn’t it sleep through the night?

“It is a very important developmental step for children to learn to fall asleep on their own. And also to experience that sleep is something very wonderful,” explains Quante.

“It can be exhausting to develop a good bedtime routine with the children. My impression is that some families shy away from this process and then take the easy way out and resort to self-medication. So I think it’s dangerous’.

Tip: establish processes and rituals, no media use in the evening

Instead, the sleeping situation in the family should first be examined more closely. Recurring routines and rituals in the evening can make it easier for children to fall asleep. Likewise, a renunciation of media use in the evening hours. Because electronic devices can make it difficult to fall asleep and should therefore not be used at night if possible:

“Computer, tablet, smartphone – all these devices emit blue light, and this leads to a suppression of the body’s melatonin. If parents make sure that these devices are not used two hours before bedtime, it is very helpful. And it’s not only blue light, that’s the content that gets kids excited.”

Reading aloud at night is a great way to fall asleep

It makes more sense to play something with the children or to read a story. “Classical reading aloud in the evening – we have also been able to show this in studies – is still a good way to fall asleep,” says Quante.

If you really can’t fall asleep, you should certainly seek professional advice instead of administering melatonin alone, emphasizes the doctor. The first point of contact is always the paediatricians, who in an emergency can refer you to children’s sleep laboratories. Family counseling centers like Profamilia also offer sleep counseling for families.

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