Many people struggle with sleeping problems. However, children with autism may find it especially difficult to have a healthy sleeping schedule. This study by Devnani and Hegde found that children with autism were particularly prone to having trouble sleeping. These sleeping problems form additional difficulties in many aspects of the child’s life. For instance, it may be more difficult to focus on school and socialize. Not to mention, when a child with autism is sleep-deprived, it may take a toll on parents’ mental health.
You’ve probably heard of melatonin supplements before. Maybe you’ve even tried them out yourself. Could melatonin supplements be the answer to your child’s sleeping problems? Is melatonin safe for kids? How to use melatonin for sleep problems? And how to choose the best supplemental melatonin for an autistic child? We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this article.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for our sleeping patterns. It is produced in the pineal gland of our brain and production increases in the evening. When melatonin levels are high, we get tired and go to sleep. The levels of melatonin should remain high throughout the night and only decrease in the morning. However, those with sleeping problems often don’t produce enough melatonin to quickly fall asleep and stay asleep. This is why people often turn to melatonin supplements.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
While other sleeping pills may result in gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, and even a tingling sensation in the limbs, melatonin supplements rarely create any adverse side effects if taken at the correct dosage. What about melatonin and autism? This study by Malow et. al observed children with autism who took melatonin supplements for two years. While taking the melatonin, these kids had much better sleep quality and the overall well-being of both the children and parents was greatly improved.
The researchers also observed whether there were any negative long-term side effects of melatonin. They did this by monitoring the height, weight, and pubertal development of the children. No meaningful changes in these measures were observed.If, however, your child overdoses on melatonin, they may experience some minor side effects. These side effects may include drowsiness, irritability, anxiety, or disorientation. However, this would only happen if your child overdosed on melatonin. If you give your child the correct dosage (which I’ll get to in the next section), there shouldn’t be any side effects.
Can Melatonin Help Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders?
This study by Williams et. al focused on sleeping problems in kids with autism. The study was conducted by sending out questionnaires to the parents of 500 kids with autism. More than half of the parents reported that their child had trouble falling asleep. Many reported that their kids were very restless and kept waking up at night. The study also revealed that kids with autism were often very tired and confused when they had to wake up, which is a result of poor sleep quality.
Supplemental melatonin should make it easier for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is one of the most popular sleep remedies among both kids and adults. Plus, it definitely beats other sleeping pills. This is because melatonin is a natural hormone that our bodies are used to.
How Is Melatonin Used For Sleep Problems?
As I already mentioned, melatonin is one of the most popular sleep remedies worldwide. People use it for various reasons. Whether it’s jet lag, insomnia, stress, or anxiety that’s keeping you awake, melatonin is always a good choice. Melatonin supplements are taken by mouth every night 20-30 minutes before bed. Make sure not to give your child any melatonin after their regular bedtime. If you do, the melatonin may not leave your child’s system on time, which will result in morning drowsiness and irritability.
The recommended melatonin dosage for children is 0.5-6 mg. If it’s your child’s first time taking melatonin and you’re unsure about the right dosage, start with 0.5-1 mg. If that isn’t enough, slowly work your way up until you begin to notice results, but don’t go over 6 mg. Remember, it’s always a good idea to consult with your child’s doctor before giving them any type of supplement.
What Else Can You Do to Improve Your Child’s Sleep Quality?
If you’re going to use melatonin for your autistic child’s sleep problems, you should take some additional measures to improve your child’s sleep quality. This means going to sleep and waking up at consistent times each day, avoiding naps during the day, and avoiding heavy meals before bed.
You should also make sure that your child’s sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible. This means that the room should be dark enough, the bed comfortable enough, and it shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. Finally, it’s very important to avoid bright screens before bed. As I mentioned, melatonin production is directly related to the amount of light we’re exposed to. So to avoid further imbalances in your child’s melatonin levels and sleep/wake cycle, opt for some low-light activities before bed. By implementing these steps into your child’s daily routine and combining them with nightly melatonin, there should be a noticeable improvement in your child’s sleep quality.