How Melatonin May Help Children with Autism
Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder may want to talk to their healthcare providers about the use of a natural supplement called melatonin to help with certain behaviors associated with autism. A new study published in Current Clinical Pharmacology, as well as other research, suggest the hormone may offer significant improvements for some children.
Why chose melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced mostly in the pineal gland, which is located deep in the brain. You may be familiar with melatonin supplements, which are commonly used to help individuals who suffer with sleep problems, such as insomnia.
Research has indicated that children with autism have abnormalities in melatonin physiology and circadian rhythms, which are the behavioral, mental, and physical changes that occur in the body and that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle in response to darkness and light in the environment.
Levels of melatonin fluctuate depending on the amount of light and darkness and thus play a significant role in sleep patterns. Children with autism spectrum disorder tend to have variations in melatonin levels that have a negative impact on their ability to sleep and thus on behavior. Take a look at EmaxHealth's earlier coverage on alternative treatments for Autism and what may work.
Sleep, autism and melatonin
In the new study, the authors reviewed previous evidence of the effect of melatonin on behavior and sleep among children with autism. Here is an overview of what they found:
• Four studies noted an association between abnormal concentrations of melatonin in autistic children and the severity of their behavioral problems
• Twenty studies reported that children with autism who took melatonin supplements had improved sleep (e.g., longer duration of sleep, less awakenings during the night, falling asleep faster) than did controls
• A meta-analysis of five double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover studies found that autistic children who took melatonin experienced significant improvements in total sleep duration and falling sleep compared with children who took a placebo
• Six studies noted that melatonin supplementation resulted in improved behaviors during the day
Based on these findings, the authors concluded there is evidence melatonin supplementation helps with abnormal sleep challenges in autism spectrum disorder.
Other research on melatonin and autism
A University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Ohio State University (OSU) study evaluated alternative treatments for autism. Of the dozens of possibilities explored, the investigators reported that three of 19 treatments for autism could be recommended, and one of those three was melatonin.
For example, Robert Hendren, DO, one of the study’s coauthors and professor and vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF, reported that he has had success using 2 or 3 mg per day as a startup dose in children with autism who have sleep problems. A dose up to 9 mg/d can be used if necessary.
In another new review, published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, the author reported that “The existing evidence base indicates that melatonin can be recommended as a treatment for sleeping disturbances associated with autism spectrum disorder.”
If you are the parent of a child with autism and you have not tried melatonin, it may be time to discuss this possibility with your healthcare provider. Based on evidence uncovered thus far, melatonin may help children with autism.
Rossignol DA, Frye RE. Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders. Current Clinical Pharmacology 2013 Sep 20
Lofthouse N et al. A review of complementary and alternative treatments for autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research Treatment 2012 Nov 28; [Epub]. doi:10.1155/2012/870391.
Whitehouse AJ. Complementary and alternative medicine for autism spectrum disorders: rationale, safety and efficacy. Journal of Paediatric and Child Health 2013 Sep; 49(9): E438-42