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This is about our family’s experience using Melatonin, an over-the-counter sleep aide to combat our autistic’s daughters sleep troubles.
Disclaimer: Been There, Tried it is based upon personal experiences of those who have tried a particular intervention. It is NOT medical advice, nor a substitute for medical advice. It is neither an endorsement or opposition to any intervention. This is an opinion piece.
sleep troubles are common
Nearly 90% of parents who have a child with special needs report sleep difficulties; both getting to and staying asleep.
melatonin and how it’s used
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland. It helps your body know when it’s time to sleep and wake up. When the body doesn’t make enough of the hormone at the right time, it can result in sleep difficulties.
Some studies say taking over-the-counter melatonin can help with sleep issues like delayed sleep , shift work disorder, and some sleep disorders with children.
Other research shows that taking melatonin may let people with sleep difficulties fall asleep slightly faster. It may also help you sleep better through the night, but not necessarily longer.
It’s important to read the ingredients – some melatonin pills, particularly the ones that are chewable, may have additives like sugars or food dyes. There’s also a difference between melatonin pills that will help kids fall asleep, and time-released pills that are designed to keep them asleep.
In our case, sleep problems were a fact of life- starting when my daughter was just months old. “Colic,” the pediatrician told me, “She’ll grow out of it.” Fast forward to age 8 and she had not grown out of it.
When I say ‘sleep problems’ I mean sleep deprivation. Many nights we did not get to sleep until close to midnight, only to be awake for the day by 3 or 4 am. Our entire family was sleep deprived.
The same doctor who told me that she’ll grow out it, was quick to share with us the norms — how much a child my kiddo’s age should be sleeping, as though it was our fault as parents that our child couldn’t sleep.
The amount of sleep needed does vary from person to person, but as a general guideline, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree to the following averages:
We completed a Sleep Study
We tried what the experts told us: Establish a routine; limit TV, electronics and don’t use them prior to bedtime; used lavender; draw a bath; read. When that didn’t help, we reached out to a specialist to perform a sleep study that did confirm some difficulties, including mild sleep apnea. Melatonin was recommended in addition to medication for the mild sleep apnea.
With our kiddo the trouble was two-fold, both getting to sleep and staying asleep. In our experience, using melatonin helped her fall asleep however it did not help keep her asleep. For that, we tried time-released melatonin. It helped her to stay asleep sometimes, but not with consistency.
Overall, melatonin is an inexpensive intervention, with few noted side effects. Some parents swear by it – so it does work for some people. Any supplement should be discussed with a medical doctor prior to starting. In the end, we discontinued use, fining different ways to support sleep, including reducing blue light exposure and eating foods that naturally promote sleep.
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