How Melatonin May Help Children with Autism

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2013-09-23 09:02

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

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