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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Melatonin Helps Autistic Kids Sleep

Study Shows No Side Effects From Low-Dose Supplements of Melatonin
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Importance of Good Sleep Habits continued...

One milligram a night did the trick for three of the 11 youngsters, Malow says. Six required 3 milligrams, and only two children needed 6 milligrams, she says.

They also slept longer, and parents reported they had less trouble getting their kids to agree to go to sleep, Malow reports.

Additionally, the children exhibited fewer of the compulsive and ritualistic behaviors that can accompany autism, she says.

The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association.

Synchronizing Natural Sleep Patterns

While there have been reports of bed-wetting, seizures, and daytime drowsiness among children given melatonin supplements, "we didn't see any of those problems. These are relatively small doses and they seem benign," Malow says.

The children are continuing to take the supplements, and the researchers plan to see how they're sleeping after six months.

"There's some evidence that the melatonin supplements synchronize the natural sleep pattern and you can stop giving it after six months to a year," Malow says.

Proper sleep hygiene is a huge part of the equation, Malow stresses. "If kids watch videos late at night, that's going to interfere with their sleep. They'll be all hyped up, and the light will interfere with the body's own melatonin," she says.

The researchers also plan to collect blood and urine samples to confirm whether children with autism are deficient in melatonin and whether supplementation brings levels back to normal.

Zimmerman, who was not involved with the work, tells WebMD that he often prescribes supplemental melatonin to his young patients with autism.

"It's readily available and easy to use," he says. "My experience is that it helps to get them to sleep, but doesn't always help them stay asleep. I'm glad to see the children in the study had longer sleep duration."

The big question is how long to give melatonin to children, he says. "This is important work as it helps answer that question."

Once the safety and effectiveness of supplemental melatonin is confirmed in more children, the researchers plan to conduct a larger trial pitting melatonin and behavioral therapy against behavioral therapy alone, Malow says.

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