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Use of sleeping supplements for children on the rise

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

For Mindie Narnett, putting her toddler Julian to bed was anything but a dream.

"It would take him sometimes two hours time to fall asleep," said Barnett.

That all changed when a doctor suggested over-the-counter melatonin, a synthetic form of the hormone your body produces to help regulate sleep.   

"He falls asleep within ten minutes of taking it," said Barnett.

While it's commonly recommended for children with certain neurological or developmental disorders, sleep expert Dr. Sanjeev Kothare says a growing number of parents are now giving it to typically developing kids with insomnia.

"Melatonin may be a useful product and a easy fix," said Dr. Kothare who also warns that it's not a cure-all.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says melatonin is generally considered safe for children to use temporarily and under a doctor's supervision.

"The studies that have looked at melatonin use in children, both in, in typically developing and special populations, have found it to be effective, particularly in reducing the time to fall asleep," said Dr. Judith Owens with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

But Dr. Owens cautions clinical studies on-long term side effects are lacking.

"One of the concerning issues is that melatonin does have an impact on the systems in the body that govern puberty related changes," said Dr. Owens.

And while melatonin is non-habit forming, Dr. Owens is worried about psychological dependence.

"I've actually had 5 and 6-year-olds who ask their parents for their melatonin dose at bedtime."

Before starting any sleep medication, it's important for your pediatrician to rule out medical or behavioral sleep issues.

As for Mindie, she plans on putting the melatonin away soon. 

"I think as long as you don't abuse it, and it doesn't carry on for years and years and years, there's nothing wrong with it," said Barnett.

Another concern for doctors is that dosing can be confusing for parents.

A single dose can range from point-five-milligrams to five milligrams, depending on age and sensitivity to the hormone.

Doctors say giving more than 5mg has not found to be beneficial.

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