Children with neurodevelopmental disabilities who took melatonin fell asleep faster
and slept longer than those given a placebo, according to a meta-analysis of 13 randomized,
controlled trials that included 682 subjects.
Studies have shown that many children with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder and intellectual disability have trouble sleeping. Research also has shown
that melatonin, which regulates the circadian rhythm, may improve sleep in these children.
The last systematic review on the effects of melatonin in children with neurodevelopmental
disabilities was conducted in 2004, so the authors set out to see what recent studies
They searched several databases for randomized, controlled trials comparing melatonin
with placebo or other intervention in children 18 years of age or younger with neurodevelopmental
and sleep disorders. The studies used sleep diaries or actigraphs to measure total
sleep time, how long it took children to fall asleep (sleep onset latency) and how
often they woke up at night. Outcomes also included adverse events and the effects
of the intervention on the child’s behavior and family quality of life.
Results showed that children who took melatonin slept for about 48 minutes more per
night than those who were given a placebo. The benefits of melatonin were even greater
for children with autism, who slept 61 additional minutes.
The melatonin group also fell asleep faster (a mean difference of about 29 minutes),
and parents reported that their child’s behavior was better after taking melatonin
and family stress was lower.
There were no significant differences in the frequency of nighttime awakenings between
the groups, and no serious side effects were reported with melatonin use.
The authors cautioned that more research is needed due to the moderate quality of
the studies and small sample sizes of several.
“Evidence from this study suggests that melatonin is effective in improving total
sleep time and sleep onset latency, and that there is no significant risk of side
effects,” the authors concluded. “This evidence would help guide current practice
and recommendations for future research.”