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Melatonin May Ease Sleep Problems in Autistic Children

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A very small study shows that over-the-counter melatonin supplements may help treat sleep problems in children with autism.

The study included 12 children, aged two to 15 years with autism spectrum disorder, fragile X syndrome (FXS) or both. The participants were randomly selected to take melatonin or a placebo for two weeks. After they completed the first two weeks of the study, the children were switched over to the alternate treatment for another two weeks.

The findings, which are published in the April 15, 2009, issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that taking the melatonin increased sleep duration by 21 minutes. It also shortened sleep-onset latency by 28 percent and reduced sleep-onset time by 42 minutes, compared to the placebo.

Over-the-counter melatonin supplements benefit children of all ages and help alleviate some of the additional stress experienced by parents of special-needs children, said senior author Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, of the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California Davis Health System in Sacramento.

“Sleep-onset problems at the beginning of the night are very troublesome for children and their families. Sometimes children may take one or two hours to fall asleep, and often they disrupt the household during this time,” she said.

Goodlin-Jones and her colleagues noted that sleep problems occur in up to 89 percent of children with autism and 77 percent of children with FXS, an inherited form of mental impairment that’s the most commonly known cause of autism.

The researchers recommended that over-the-counter melatonin supplements, behavior therapies and sleep hygiene practices should be used to manage sleep problems in children with autism and FXS.

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