Autism & Sleep Series: Melatonin
This month we are talking about autism and insomnia. It is well documented that people on the autism spectrum have a variety of difficulties related to sleep. There are several reasons why people on the autism spectrum deal with insomnia. These reasons can range from abnormalities in melatonin levels, anxiety or poor sleeping habits. The biggest problems seem to be going to sleep and staying asleep, restless sleep, resisting going to bed, co-sleeping, poor sleep hygiene, and early awakenings in the morning.
To deal with sleep problems with people on the autism spectrum most likely you will need to take a multifaceted approach. Last post we talked about setting up the environment for good sleep, this post we will talk about melatonin.
What is Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland that is located in the center of the brain. This small gland is about the size of a pea. Your body usually secrets Melatonin at night or when it is dark. The body uses Melatonin to regulate the sleeping cycle. There are now time release versions of Melatonin available.
Melatonin and Autism
Several studies are pointing to gene mutations in children with autism that cause them to produce below average levels of melatonin and/or melatonin derivatives.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
“Some children may sleep better using medications such as melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Like any medication, melatonin can have unwanted side effects. Talk to your child’s doctor about possible risks and benefits before giving your child melatonin.”
Studies are showing that Melatonin can help treat insomnia in children with autism. These studies have shown that melatonin is a safe and effective treatment alternative to sedatives or hypnotic drugs. One study showed that melatonin helped autistic people fall asleep, improved the quality of sleep, and even lowered parental stress!
How Much Melatonin Does A Person on the Autism Spectrum Need?
The biggest question everyone asks about autism and melatonin is how much should I give my child? Before starting any new supplement you should talk with your child’s physician or a knowledgeable medical professional. What we can report is that the average doses of melatonin that are being research currently is 1-3 mg.
Side Effects of Melatonin
Most studies show that Melatonin has very little reported side effects. However every person’s body is different. These are some of the side effects that have been reported:
- Discomfort in the abdomen
- Sleepiness during the day
While most show little if no side effects to melatonin, some people could be very sensitive. If a person with autism is taking melatonin and reporting nightmares or any other side effects it is important that you listen to them and contact your doctor or knowledgeable medical professional for advice!
Next post we will talk about behavioral strategies to help a person with autism sleep.