Melatonin warning: ER visits for children accidentally eating supplements spike

FILE - In this photo illustration, melatonin gummies are displayed on April 26, 2023, in Miami, Florida. (Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As more Americans turn to melatonin supplements to help them sleep, the number of emergency department visits by babies and young children who have accidentally ingested them has also soared in recent years. 

Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone in the body that plays a role in sleep. Use of melatonin supplements, which often comes in the form of flavored gummies, has grown substantially over the past several years among U.S. adults. 

Only 0.4% reported using these supplements between 1999 and 2000, and that number grew to 2.1% of U.S. adults by 2018, according to a report published on Thursday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said this rise in melatonin use has coincided with a 530% increase in poison center calls for pediatric melatonin exposures between 2012 and 2021. There was also a 420% increase in emergency department (ED) visits for unsupervised melatonin ingestion by babies and young kids between 2009 and 2020. 

Between 2019 and 2022, melatonin was behind approximately 11,000 – or 7% – of all emergency department visits among babies and young kids who had ingested unsupervised medication.

Half of these ED visits involved children between the ages of 3 to 5, the CDC said, whereas most unsupervised medication exposures involved younger kids between 1 and 2 years old. The agency noted how at least half of the melatonin-related ED visits involved flavored products, such as gummies or chewable tablets, that "might appeal to young children."

Melatonin products do not require child-proof packaging, although it can be voluntarily implemented, the CDC said. 

Roughly 75% of the emergency visits with documentation of the packaging involved melatonin accessed from bottles, suggesting that babies and kids "opened bottles or that bottles were not properly closed," according to the agency.  

In its report, the CDC said the increase in emergency department visits "highlights the importance of educating parents and other caregivers about keeping all medications and supplements (including gummies) out of children’s reach and sight."

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has previously warned about the rise in reports of melatonin overdoses, calls to poison control centers and emergency room visits among children.

Nearly half (46%) of parents in the U.S. have given melatonin to a child under the age of 13, and almost one-third (30%) of parents have given the supplement to a teen over the age of 13 to help him or her fall asleep, according to a survey last fall by the AASM.

Providing melatonin to children might seem like a natural solution, but the AASM has warned against using it for kids in the past because it’s not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

This story was reported from Cincinnati.