I thought I would share this interesting article from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. There is a high rate of sleep difficulties reported by individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also known as pervasive developmental disorder (which includes Asperger’s Disorder) These sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep as well as maintaining sleep.

For all of us, sleep disturbances decrease the ability to manage our emotions. When we regularly don’t sleep well, we become moody, lack energy and have difficulty managing stress. For individuals with autism spectrum disorders, the lack of sleep can also increase the severity of seizure symptoms as well as mood and stress symptoms. Finding an effective way to increase sleep without side-effects makes a lot of sense to me.

A group of researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine examined the role of natural melatonin in the body and the relationship between melatonin levels in ASD individuals and their sleep habits. They found that low nocturnal melatonin levels were associated with poor or restless sleep and increased daytime sleepiness. This research was added to a growing body of research that supports the potential use of melatonin as an intervention for sleep problems in individuals with ASD.

Now for the disclaimer. This particular study utilized a very small sample (24 children). The researchers also did not examine the effects in ASD individuals with seizure disorders, intellectual disabilities or taking medications. I would recommend reading more about melatonin and it’s side effects, and speak with a physician about possible medication interactions, before use.

Leu, R.M., Beyderman, L., Botzolakis, E.H., Surdyka, K., Wag, L., & Malow, B.A. (2011). Relation of melatonin to sleep architecture in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 427-433.