Autistic children often have trouble sleeping. Melatonin may help, study says

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Melatonin is safe for long-term use in autistic children who have difficulty sleeping, according to a new study.

The study tracked the sleep hormone’s effects in autistic children over a two-year period. Melatonin has previously been suggested as a sleep aid for children on the spectrum, but the new study is the first to systematically assess its long-term safety.

Up to 80 percent of autistic children struggle to fall or stay asleep. These difficulties can exacerbate problems with learning, behavior and overall quality of life, says lead investigator Beth Malow, professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Helping children get more sleep, she says, may alleviate these issues.

Related article:  Why genetic testing for autism cannot offer definitive answers

“[Good sleep] can improve and mitigate a lot of problems, so that kids can focus better and do better in school and therapy, and also it can impact the family quality of life,” Malow says.

The study did not include a group of children given only a placebo. Still, it adds to the growing evidence that melatonin is safe and effective for children with autism, says Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study.

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