No, Melatonin Doesn’t Work for Special Needs Kids

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Today, I’m addressing a topic that frequently comes up for special needs families, especially with parents of autistic kids: melatonin.

Unfortunately, over the counter or prescription melatonin is the most recommended sleep remedy. And, it is often a remedy that doesn’t work. Best case, it works for a while. But, the sleep issues creep back in and the dosage is increased over and over again.

When it still doesn’t work, doctors then recommend anti-allergy medication, then prescription behavioral meds. And finally…sedatives.

For many people, using a synthetic melatonin supplement can help alleviate temporary sleep disturbance issues. But, melatonin is touted as a long term remedy for children with special needs.

The CDC says that sleep deprivation is a “public health epidemic” across the board.

And, many medical professionals are quick to give an “easy fix” for these sleep disturbances. They don’t believe that a child on the spectrum can learn to sleep well. Because of a child’s diagnosis, this is why they cannot sleep well, so they prescribe something to get the parents moving along. I debunk this myth about autism and unfixable sleep issues here.

We’ll explore the three reasons behind melatonin’s limited effectiveness, including its role as a temporary remedy, its tendency to mask underlying nutritional deficiencies, and its ineffectiveness in maintaining sleep throughout the night. Understanding these factors can help you make more informed decisions about your ASD child’s sleep health.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies produce in order to go to sleep. As we get closer to bedtime, our body produces more melatonin which is “dumped” into our system, making us feel sleepy. Then, (hopefully) we’re off to dreamland. So, if it helps to get you to sleep, why doesn’t it work?

Melatonin is a temporary remedy for special needs kids

Over the counter or prescription melatonin is really just a temporary fix. For example, melatonin is useful when adjusting to new time zones, in times of stress, and when sleep is thrown off temporarily.

However, melatonin is not a long-term solution for sleep problems. If a child with special needs has chronic sleep issues, melatonin might only provide temporary relief without addressing the underlying problems. Chronic sleep issues such as difficulty falling asleep, frequent night awakenings, and early morning wake-ups require more than just a temporary solution.

And, what is on the box might not be exactly what is advertised. That means, your autistic child might be getting way more than what is age appropriate for them. Many sleep professionals state that long term melatonin use can affect our body’s ability to make melatonin naturally.

Melatonin masks underlying nutritional deficiencies

Another reason melatonin might not be effective for kids with autism is that it often masks underlying nutritional issues. Unfortunately, many children don’t get enough of the essential vitamins and minerals they need to produce melatonin naturally. This is especially true for children who are picky eaters due to sensory processing issues.

For instance, tryptophan, calcium, and vitamin B6 are crucial for melatonin production. Simply supplementing with melatonin without addressing these deficiencies is like putting a band-aid on a hole in a boat.

Melatonin is ineffective for maintaining sleep through the night

While melatonin might help children with special needs fall asleep initially, it often falls short in maintaining sleep throughout the night.

Many parents report that their children wake up in the middle of the night, despite taking melatonin. This is because melatonin primarily helps with the onset of sleep. But, it doesn’t sustain sleep through the night. For children with autism in particular, who often experience heightened sensory sensitivity in the middle of the night, this can be particularly problematic.

If a child is getting good sources of the vitamins and minerals, this helps to combat the big, long middle of the night wakings.

Sleep for special needs kids improves when addressing the root causes

To effectively improve sleep for kids with special needs, it’s essential to address the root causes of sleep issues. When we address the root causes, that is when we will see improvements for the long term.

At Melissa Doman Sleep Consulting, our sleep plans are individualized to each child and their family dynamic. In every sleep plan, we will cover:

  • Ideal bedtime routine to help your child with special needs wind down adequately.
  • Sleep schedule and maximizing your child’s sleep needs.
  • Nutrition additions and changes to make sure your child has what they need to fall asleep and stay asleep well through the night.
  • Physical activity recommendations so that your child can burn off energy to sleep without overdoing it.
  • Sensory techniques to help your child feel more settled and properly meet their needs for a restful night.
  • The exact path to help your child to learn how to self soothe and regulate to sleep independently.

If your child is struggling with sleep issues and melatonin hasn’t been the solution you hoped for, you are not alone. Many parents face similar challenges, and it’s important to approach the problem holistically. And, the team at Melissa Doman Sleep Consulting takes a “no stones left unturned” approach to help solve your autistic child’s sleep issues for good.

For more tips and personalized support, feel free to reach out to us. Our team is here every step of the way to your child achieve better sleep without melatonin and meds.