Are you a parent of a neurodivergent child with chronic sleep problems?
Many families are looking for natural treatment options to find a solution to their neurodivergent child's sleep problems.
Do you want to know more about this hormone, called melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles. It's popularly known as the sleep hormone.
In this article, let's learn more about melatonin and see if this can be an alternative solution to our neurodivergent child's sleep problems.
What is melatonin?
The body naturally produces melatonin in response to darkness. It is secreted into the blood where it binds to melatonin receptors in various areas of the body, especially the brain.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland and it is not just a hormone but also functions as a neurotransmitter. The pineal gland produces it and the amount of melatonin in the body goes up when it starts getting dark which helps make us feel sleepy.
Melatonin production decreases as we age, which can lead to an increase in sleep problems.
Numerous studies have shown that approximately 60-70% of children with neurodivergence (e.g., ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder) have difficulty sleeping. This sleep issue can mean that they wake up throughout the night or sleep very poorly in general.
Hyper-arousal and hypersensitivity can contribute to insomnia in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or multiple dysregulated neurotransmitters, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), melatonin, and serotonin.
80% of children with neurodevelopmental disorders, including ASDs, cerebral palsy, Rett syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Williams syndrome, and Smith-Magenis syndrome, are affected by disrupted sleep which influences daytime behavior, cognition, growth, and overall development.
What are melatonin supplements?
Did you know Melatonin also comes in supplement form?
The FDA classifies melatonin as a dietary supplement. This means it’s regulated less strictly than a regular drug. Dietary supplements don't need to meet FDA approval before they're sold. They don't require clinical trials or pharmacology studies either, just evidence that the ingredients are safe at the doses used in supplements.
A 2017 study of 31 different melatonin supplements found that 71 percent of the products' actual melatonin content didn’t match the label’s claim.
Moreover, 26 percent of these melatonin supplements contained serotonin, which can be potentially dangerous even in small doses.
Melatonin supplements are a popular sleep aid for children and adults with trouble sleeping. They work by increasing the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates circadian rhythms—the patterns of sleep and wakefulness in our bodies.
The most common types of melatonin supplements are made in a lab, but they can also be found in foods like turkey, bananas, and fish. Melatonin is also present in some over-the-counter medications, such as gummies and tablets for kids.
But do these melatonin supplements help with the sleep problems our neurodivergent children face? Let’s find out and continue reading below.
Should you give melatonin supplements to your neurodivergent children?
Preliminary research suggests that melatonin may help children with sleep challenges. Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often have trouble sleeping and melatonin is thought to relieve their symptoms.
There have be NO long term studies that have been done, which means we have no idea what the implications are of long-term use. What we do know is that long term melatonin use will halt your child's natural production of melatonin.
Melatonin may help children achieve quality sleep in the short term however, precautions against other side effects, can cause severe nightmares, anxiety, or even outbursts.
I do not personally recommend it. It’s like using a Band-Aid when you need stitches. We need to develop healthy sleep habits and more long-term solutions.
Did you know that 81% of children taken to the pediatrician/psychiatrist/family doctors for sleep challenges will be prescribed a sleep medication or told to use melatonin!
"The most recent survey of the four-year medical school curriculum reveals an average of less than two hours of formal education directed at sleep, even at Harvard Medical School. The average medical student graduates with little information on either the identification or the treatment of sleep disorders." Division of Sleep Medicine Harvard Medical School
The lack of training on sleep results in a recommendation of 1 sleep training method or a prescription for melatonin/medication with no behavioral supports.
Before melatonin or medication is sought the following below should be tried first:
✔ Psychoeducation- key information to help address root problems.
✔Healthy Sleep Practices- Behavioral and environmental changes that promote sleep and reduce poor sleep causing factors
✔Behavioral Interventions- Strategies like stimulus control, bedtime facing and scheduled awakenings.
These things (typically) doctors are not knowledgeable in, don't address, or give you proper support to implement.
It is best to talk with a Certified Sleep Consultant who is more equipped to address your neurodivergent child’s sleep problems through natural methods and techniques.