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Research Says Melatonin is Helpful, but Autism Parents Should Be Careful on Dosage

Melatonin and Sleep

Facing autism, every little bit of information that causes no harm provides a world of help, particularly when it comes to natural hormones like Melatonin. Research has been looking into the pros and cons of the proclaimed sleep aid, in order to ensure every child's safety, particularly the autistic often prescribed to take it.

Autism is a genetic disorder augmented by environmental factors which hits about 1 in 88 children, out of which 1 in 54 are boys. The gender differences show that male children are four times more likely to be diagnosed on the spectrum. The 2012 statistics showed that over the last 6 years, diagnoses have had a 78% spike, a worrisome tidbit that makes one wonder. Are the numbers because of the awareness, the diagnostic criteria or because there actually has been a huge increase in the prevalence of the disorder?

What causes autism?
The true causes of the disorder are unknown. Many theories exist, from the utterly wacky to the rather mind-blowing. Vaccines have been blamed, alongside foods, divorce, lack of proper prenatal care, etc. I would instead say there are many factors which increase the risk of giving birth to an autistic child. One doesn't develop autism over time and cannot, as such, "cure" it. One is born with the different brain wiring and can only go through life mitigating aggravating factors and reducing the prevalence of sensory overload that could lead to meltdowns.

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Risk factors to take into consideration include:

Is Melatonin really safe?
As far as science can tell, it is mostly safe for use with autistic children. There are many pros to the use of the hormone, but cons certainly also exist. Dr. Oz mentions that Melatonin is not actually a magic bullet for sleep, a strange thought since many other studies praise its effects on ridding one's insomnia problems. According to the revered doctor, the body naturally produces melatonin, and supplements should only be used if there is a real deficit or else you'd be signing up for likely problems to occur. Melatonin is a sleep and body clock regulator, and, according to a web posting on the Dr. Oz official website, not a sleep initiator. Called the "vampire hormone", it ensures the body understands that it should be awake during the hours there is light in the sky and sleep when the world is dark.

What are some side effects of Melatonin to beware of?
Most commonly, side effects of the hormone supplement include daytime sleepiness, dizziness, and headaches, alongside abdominal discomfort, mild anxiety, irritability, confusion and short-lasting feelings of depression. Grogginess, hormone fluctuations, and vivid dreams or nightmares are also to be expected. The Mayo Clinic has provided safety guidelines for use of Melatonin:

  • Use Melatonin for a short-term, up to 2 months
  • Consult a doctor about using it if you are taking blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants), diabetes medications, birth control pills, etc.
  • Consult with a doctor about the proper dose to take
  • Don't engage in any form of activity that require alertness for 4-5h after taking the supplement, such as driving or operating heavy machinery
  • Choose commercial supplements produced in a lab and not animal sources, as they may be contaminated.

Furthermore, the body only requires up to 1 mg of melatonin, which means that most of the dosages bought over the counter are too high for the body to handle. Some are as high as 10mg!

All in all, Melatonin given in safe doses is perfectly fine for helping autistic children sleep at night and regulate daily behavior.