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Melatonin May Ease Sleep Problems in Autistic Children

Small study finds over-the-counter melatonin reduces time to slumber

FRIDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- Over-the-counter melatonin supplements may help treat sleep problems in children with autism, a small U.S. study shows.

The study included 12 children, aged 2 to 15 years, with autism spectrum disorder, fragile X syndrome (FXS), or both. The participants were randomly selected to take melatonin or a placebo for two weeks. After they completed the first two weeks of the study, the children were switched over to the alternate treatment for another two weeks.

Taking the melatonin increased sleep duration by 21 minutes, shortened sleep-onset latency by 28 minutes, and reduced sleep-onset time by 42 minutes, compared to the placebo. The findings were published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Over-the-counter melatonin supplements benefit children of all ages and help alleviate some of the additional stress experienced by parents of special-needs children, said senior author Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, of the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California Davis Health System in Sacramento.

"Sleep-onset problems at the beginning of the night are very troublesome for children and their families. Sometimes children may take one to two hours to fall asleep, and often they disrupt the household during this time," she said in an American Academy of Sleep Medicine news release.

Goodlin-Jones and colleagues noted that sleep problems occur in up to 89 percent of children with autism and 77 percent of children with FXS, an inherited form of mental impairment that's the most commonly known cause of autism.

Over-the-counter melatonin supplements, behavior therapies and sleep hygiene practices should be used to manage sleep problems in children with autism and FXS, the researchers recommended.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about melatonin.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release, April 15, 2009

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