Parents seek desperate measures with melatonin, ignoring potential risks

"I've been an exhausted, overtired, cranky parent myself with exhausted, overtired children, babies, infants, toddlers, you name it," Leigh McMahon, a pediatric sleep consultant with Bonne Nuit Baby, said. "I get the googling and the ordering in the middle of the night and really just trying to put a band-aid on your situation. But that's exactly what it is. It's a band-aid."

There isn't a parent around that doesn't know the torture of the sleepless nights that can plague you when you have young kids. 

It’s the relentless pursuit of some sort of shut-eye evading parent and child alike. But the latest band-aid, used by a lot of parents, is melatonin, the supplement that mimics the naturally produced hormone, which helps all of us, wind down.

Both the hard data and the anecdotal evidence shows melatonin, the supplement, is being abused and in some cases, leading to overdoses.

Data from the CDC shows a 420% increase in ER visits for pediatric melatonin ingestions.

There’s been a 530% increase in calls to poison control.

"It's usually just like this grogginess, this vomiting, some agitation," said pediatrician, Dr. Dyan Hes. "And the problem is that these caps on melatonin are not child's safe. They just untwist. So if you have melatonin at home, it's really important to keep it on a high shelf that's locked because kids think they're yummy, they're gummies, and they want more of them."

Melatonin is nearly a billion-dollar industry.

However, because it's a supplement, it's not subjected to the same oversight, as say children's pain reliever.

As a result, it's rife for misuse by parents looking for some relief.

"We're concerned about what is the effect on hormones and that process as children get older. What is the effect on developing brains? What is the effect on gross motor and fine motor development? We have no idea," McMahon said.

There's another problem: Melatonin helps you drift off to sleep, but it does not teach you how to handle sleep, or what to do if you wake up in the middle of the night.

"I would say that melatonin is a last resort, not a first choice. And I would definitely discuss it with my pediatrician before starting it for your child," Dr. Hes said.