Melatonin Prescription Among Children and Teenagers May Reduce Self-harm Tendencies, Study Shows

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A new study from Sweden found a link between the use of melatonin and a decrease in self-harm among young people with anxiety and depression. The observational study, conducted by scientists at the Karolinska Institute, revealed that the risk of self-harm increased before a melatonin prescription and decreased afterward, particularly in girls.

Sleep hormone melatonin is critical in addressing self-harm in teens

Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles and is commonly used to treat sleep problems in adolescents and children. In Sweden, it was previously only available with a prescription but is now available over the counter.

In a statement released by the university, study leader Dr. Sarah Bergen, who holds a teaching position at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, expressed their interest in investigating the potential correlation between medical sleep therapy and decreased incidents of deliberate self-harm among young individuals, given the well-established link between sleep problems, depression, and self-inflicted harm.

The study of more than 25,500 adolescents and children in Sweden found that over 87% of children and teenagers prescribed melatonin also had at least one psychiatric disorder, and incidents of self-harm were more common in females than males. Researchers estimated the risks of self-harm while on and off melatonin by comparing each child’s risk before and after treatment, considering factors like genetics, psychiatric disorders, and sleep disorder severity.

Self-harm risk was reduced by almost 50% after subjects used melatonin

Study findings indicate that the risk of self-harm was high before the melatonin prescription and reduced by around 50% in the subsequent months after subjects started using melatonin supplements. In addition, adolescent girls with depression and/or anxiety disorders showed the most significant risk reduction. This finding supports the idea that sleep interventions, such as melatonin, may reduce self-harm and suicide risk in youth, especially girls, amid the current youth mental health crisis.

In an observational study, researchers couldn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship between melatonin use and lower self-harm rates. So they conducted additional analyses and found that even after excluding antidepressant users, the results remained similar.

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