What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that’s produced in the brain. Your body produces more melatonin when it’s dark and less when it’s light.
Melatonin maintains your circadian rhythm, which is your internal 24-hour clock. Your circadian rhythm helps to control when you fall asleep, how long you sleep and when you wake up.
Who is melatonin for?
Melatonin is used to help people who have trouble sleeping – for example, because of jet lag or shift work. It can also be used to help with sleep problems in children, including autistic children.
What is melatonin used for?
Melatonin is used to help autistic children who have sleep problems fall asleep quicker, sleep for longer and wake up fewer times in the night. It might also help to improve daytime behaviour in some autistic children.
Where does melatonin therapy come from?
Melatonin therapy comes from research that started in the 1990s. This research showed that some autistic people have reduced melatonin levels. Researchers looked at whether melatonin supplements would help with sleep difficulties for autistic people.
What is the idea behind melatonin therapy for autistic children?
Many autistic children have sleep problems, particularly problems with falling asleep and not sleeping for long at night. Some autistic children have low levels of melatonin.
The idea is that melatonin supplements will raise melatonin levels and help with sleep. Melatonin is also a soporific. This means that it makes the person taking it feel more sleepy.
What does melatonin therapy involve?
You can take melatonin as a pill or in forms that you put under your tongue or in your cheek. You take it daily just before bedtime. It usually takes about 30 minutes to work.
Does melatonin help autistic children?
- Melatonin supplements help some autistic children fall asleep faster.
- Prolonged-release melatonin can help children sleep for longer and/or wake up fewer times in the night.
- Melatonin in certain forms is safe and helpful in the long term.
Melatonin might help to improve daytime behaviour in some autistic children. It’s likely that daytime behaviour improves because children are sleeping better at night.
High-quality research shows that families have improved quality of life when children sleep better.
Melatonin can have some side effects including nausea and headaches.
Further research is needed to look at the long-term effects and the benefits and risks of different types of melatonin. Research is also needed to work out whether autistic children’s sleep problems are caused by low melatonin levels.
Who practises this method?
If you’re interested in melatonin for your child, see your GP or paediatrician. These health professionals can prescribe the right dose and give you information about melatonin and any possible side effects or interactions with other medicines. They’ll also monitor your child while they’re taking melatonin.
It’s also a good idea to have a sleep assessment first to identify your child’s specific sleep problem and make sure the dose and timing of melatonin is adjusted for it.
Where can you find a practitioner?
It’s best to speak to your GP or your child’s paediatrician about melatonin.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
You need to ensure your child takes the medicine on a daily basis and at the specified time before bed. You also need to monitor its effects.
The cost depends on the melatonin brand and dosage.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.