Experts warn far too many children are being given sleeping tablets with unknown side effects as parents desire the ‘perfect’ child.
The so-called ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin is naturally produced by the body at night-time and is authorised as a prescription for adults over the age of 55 who are suffering from insomnia.
Yet an exponential rise in the number of children under 14 being hospitalised with sleep disorders over the past decade has led to concerns that some children are being prescribed the hormone ‘off label’ – using drugs in an unauthorised disease or age group.
Experts are worried melatonin is being used by parents in a quest for ‘perfect’ children, reports Daily Mail.
Short-term complications of melatonin drugs include headaches, nausea, dizziness and drowsiness. In the long term, animal studies suggest the drugs can have a negative impact on a user’s hormones.
NHS prescription data does not specify child ages, however, melatonin use has increased ten-fold among under-55s in the past decade, with GPs and nurses reporting overuse in children.
Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert and former director of sleep research at the University of Surrey, said: ‘Unless a child has a diagnosed condition such as autism that has been scientifically proven to be helped by melatonin, there is no medical rationale for a child to be given it.
‘For non-autistic children it is a fashionable treatment for parents wanting “perfect” children,’ The Guardian reported.
Autistic children often fail to produce adequate amounts of melatonin on their own.
Vicki Dawson, founder of the NHS Doncaster-funded the Children’s Sleep Charity said: “Sometimes there is a place for it [melatonin]. We work closely with paediatricians and there are times when we will say we think it is helpful but only for short periods of time. My concern is some children are on it as a long-term solution. I have worked with kids on it six or seven years.”
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