Rise in melatonin use

The Guardian have released a new article about melatonin prescriptions for children. Read an excerpt below.

Tens of thousands of children and young people are being given the hormone melatonin to help them sleep, prompting concern that the medicine is being handed out too readily with little evidence of its long-term effectiveness or safety.

Melatonin, which is produced naturally by the body in dark environments to help sleep preparations, has been authorised for use by people aged over 55. It has been hailed as a less addictive alternative to insomnia drug treatments.

Experts have expressed concern that the hormone may be being overprescribed by paediatricians due to the fact that there are few alternatives to support children with insomnia and other problems.

“These figures show we need more services for children who have sleep problems,” said Mandy Gurney, a health visitor and founder of the Millpond Sleep Clinic. “You can get very good results just looking down the behavioural and sleep hygiene line … The question is: do they need melatonin? But that piece of research has not been done.”

Dr Michael Farquhar, a consultant in sleep medicine at the Evelina children’s hospital, part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, was more cautious, describing the prescription of melatonin as “not a good or bad thing”.

He said: “It can be right for the right child in the right context … I would expect to see increase in use but whether it is a valid increase in prescription is hard to say. We would need to know the reason it is being prescribed and whether there was a benefit in its use … A much bigger piece of work is needed to find that out.”

Farquhar said he was concerned that some people saw melatonin as a quick fix. “Behaviour interventions are more likely to be effective in the long-term and a better paediatric principle,” he said.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) says melatonin appears relatively safe in the short and medium term (up to 18 months). However beyond this the picture is unclear.

“What is important about the data is that it suggests a great need for sleep services within children’s health services. It is not enough to only have a bit of advice and if that doesn’t work then offer melatonin,” he said.

The figures are published as experts warn that young people’s lack of sleep is a hidden health crisis. Last month, the Guardian revealed that thousands of children and teenagers faced a mounting sleeplessness crisis, after the number of admissions to hospital of young people with sleep disorders rose sharply in six years.

You can read the full article here or find out more about behaviour based sleep tips on our sleep tips page.