Melatonin for Kids with ADHD: Is It Safe? Does It Work?
Is melatonin safe for kids with ADHD who have trouble sleeping? The short answer is yes. Learn more about this hormone’s connection to ADD, why doctors recommend it as a healthy supplement for better sleep, and how to spot side effects right away.
Melatonin, Sleep, and ADHD
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the brain in response to darkness. It helps our bodies maintain healthy sleep-wake cycles, where melatonin essentially tells the brain, “It’s time to start getting to sleep.”
The ADHD brain, however, has a delay in melatonin onset. Research shows that the onset of melatonin for most adults is roughly 9:30 pm, but in adults with ADHD it happens more than an hour later. In children with ADHD, the melatonin onset is similarly late — around 10:15 pm.1
This delay in melatonin onset is also associated with late sleep onset — the time it takes for children and adults with ADHD to fall asleep. It typically takes a neurotypical person up to two hours to fall asleep after melatonin onset. In adults with ADHD, it may take three hours.2
Taking melatonin as an ADHD supplement under the guidance of a pediatrician or primary care physician, therefore, can help children and adults with ADHD get to sleep safely and naturally.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
Short-term use of melatonin supplements appears to be safe for most people and effective in inducing sleep. According to one study, children with ADHD were able to sleep longer and fall asleep faster after taking melatonin daily combined with their ADHD medication over several weeks.5 Additionally, I have young patients who take melatonin on a daily basis, and I’ve also worked with kids and teenagers who take it regularly. Their doctors and pediatricians agree that it’s safe.
But data on the long-term safety of taking melatonin supplements is lacking, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).6 There’s also not enough information yet about possible side effects, especially when taking doses higher than what the body normally produces. That’s why it is strongly recommended that parents of children with ADHD or adults with ADHD talk to their doctors about melatonin use, because it’s not one-size-fits-all. Overall, future research will continue to shed light on melatonin use, and it is important to be as up to date with the data as possible.
How Much Melatonin Can I Give My Child?
Melatonin usually comes in 3 mg or 5 mg tablets. Five milligrams is considered a relatively high dose for a young person — most children take a 3 mg or even a 1 mg dose.
In a study on melatonin for kids with ADHD, sleep onset advanced by 27 to 48 minutes with melatonin, and sleep duration increased by as much as 62 minutes.7 The children, between 6 and 12 years old, were given either a 3 mg or 6 mg dose of melatonin depending on their weight.
What Are the Negative Effects of Melatonin? Are There Any Side Effects?
Studies have not shown any danger with melatonin, including any risk of addiction. That said, some patients may experience reactions to melatonin, which may depend on the dose. The higher the dose, the greater the likelihood of experiencing any side effects. Possible melatonin supplement side effects reported in children have typically been mild, according to NCCIH 8, and include:
- Increased bedwetting or urination at night
When Should Melatonin Be Taken?
The best time to take melatonin is 90 to 120 minutes before you plan on going to bed. This allows the body to metabolize the melatonin and eventually set off the OK-we’re-now-going-to-sleep signals in your brain. Melatonin for kids or adults shouldn’t be administered as a “direct” sleep aid right at bedtime, which is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding melatonin use.
If somebody with sleep difficulties is reporting that they’re sleeping better when taking melatonin right before bed, that’s probably not what’s getting them to sleep, since a two-hour window is generally needed for melatonin to work effectively. What may be happening is a type of placebo effect, where the thought of a sleep aid alone can feel really good and have a reinforcing effect. It can make the person feel calm, which may help them fall asleep.
The information in this article is based on Dr. Roberto Olivardia’s “Time for Bed! Sleep Solutions for the ADHD Brain” webinar, which was broadcast live on September 25, 2019. Dr. Olivardia is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.
2 Bijlenga, D. , Van Someren, E. J., Gruber, R. , Bron, T. I., Kruithof, I. F., Spanbroek, E. C. and Kooij, J. J. (2013), Body temperature, activity and melatonin profiles in adults with attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder and delayed sleep: a case–control study. J Sleep Res, 22: 607-616. doi:10.1111/jsr.12075. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsr.12075
3 Corkum P, Davidson F, Macpherson M. A framework for the assessment and treatment of sleep problems in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2011;58:667–683. doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2011.03.004 Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031395511000204?via%3Dihub
5 Mohammadi, M. R., et. al. (2012). Melatonin effects in methylphenidate treated children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomized double blind clinical trial. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, 7(2), 87–92. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428643/
7 VAN der HEIJDEN, KRISTIAAN B. et al. Effect of Melatonin on Sleep, Behavior, and Cognition in ADHD and Chronic Sleep-Onset Insomnia. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 46, Issue 2, 233 – 241.doi.org/10.1097/01.chi.0000246055.76167.0d Retrieved from: https://jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(09)61831-1/fulltext
Updated on February 3, 2021