Melatonin and Sleep
If you’ve read my journey, you’ll know that sleep was a privilege in our house. My daughter did not sleep through the night for the first time until she was 14 months old due to severe acid reflux among other things. She gave up napping at 18 months old and on a good night slept about 5 hours max, sometimes not more than 1-2 hours at a stretch.
The bedtime routine was a challenge. We could not get her to go to sleep before 11 pm. We tried every trick and sleep training book. Had consistent routines, tried baths, calming play, reading books, soft music you name it.
She didn’t tantrum or want us to be with her when we put her to bed, she just would talk to herself for hours – processing the day, reliving things that happened, and talking to her imaginary friends for hours. She would get out of bed and wander around her room, changing clothes, climbing furniture etc.
We removed all toys from her room, put locks on dresser drawers and closets, installed shelves that were too high to reach so there was nothing but a bed and her fleece blanket for her in her room. We installed one of those doorknobs that kept her in her room (but would open it when we went to bed). It didn’t matter, she still didn’t go to sleep.
Finally after several hours she would exhaust herself to the point she’d fall asleep where ever she was. We would go to bed and pick her up off the floor and tuck her in. I’d then be up with her 2, 3 or 4 times a night.
As part of her diagnosis process, we had to set goals for what we hoped to accomplish as a result of the assessment. High on our list was sleep. The psychologist agreed. As we went over everything we were doing, he looked at us and told us we were doing everything right. So what was wrong? Why wouldn’t she sleep?
He told us that it was common for kids with ASD to have sleep problems, research showed that many kids on the spectrum had lower levels of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone our body releases that help us regulate the sleep-wake cycle. He suggested we try giving it to her as a supplement to see if it helped. Turns out you can pick it up in the vitamin aisle in your local drugstore. We had difficulty finding the right brand though. MJ is on a dairy/soy free diet and soy as I mentioned in my journey page is in everything! Including vitamins – but after visiting several drugstores we finally found it.
I can honestly say, Melatonin save our lives and my marriage. Within a week of giving it to her, our daughter suddenly started falling asleep earlier and sleeping longer. Within 2 weeks, she was going to bed by 7:30 or 8 pm and waking only once or twice per night and sleeping until 6 am.
Two weeks after that, we noticed that she suddenly started hitting some of the developmental milestones she’d been missing. At 3.5 years of age, she had the self-care of a 24 month old at diagnosis. The transformation was amazing. Now that she could sleep and recharge her brain – something so vital that many of us take for granted, she suddenly had the energy to learn new skills.
We’ve tried several times taking her off Melatonin over the last year (and even tried a placebo effect in case it was just the routine), but every time we do, I’m in her room by 9 p.m giving her the Melatonin.
Since Melatonin is something our body is supposed to produce, it is considered ‘natural’. More and more studies are being done on Melatonin and are starting to show that it has many other potential benefits like strengthening your immune system. From our side, we’d agree. MJ was always a sickly kid. She constantly had bacterial infections from the time she was about 18 months old. Since we’ve started the melatonin, I can honestly only recall one time where she has been so sick she needed antibiotics and for a kid that was on them every time you turned around for nearly two years, that’s a big deal.
Melatonin of course is not without it’s downsides, although MJ will likely not come off it anytime soon, there is concern around the potential long-term side effects. Melatonin has worked for us and it has worked for many other families I know who have children on the spectrum and it may work for you. However, before you try it, you need to do your research and talk with your doctors to ensure it is right for your child. For more information on Melatonin, you can read this recent post from Live Science: http://www.livescience.com/42066-melatonin-supplement-facts.html