We describe our experience in using melatonin to treat insomnia, a common sleep concern, in children with autism spectrum disorders. One hundred seven children (2–18 years of age) with a confirmed diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders who received melatonin were identified by reviewing the electronic medical records of a single pediatrician. All parents were counseled on sleep hygiene techniques. Clinical response to melatonin, based on parental report, was categorized as (1) sleep no longer a concern, (2) improved sleep but continued parental concerns, (3) sleep continues to be a major concern, and (4) worsened sleep. The melatonin dose varied from 0.75 to 6 mg. After initiation of melatonin, parents of 27 children (25%) no longer reported sleep concerns at follow-up visits. Parents of 64 children (60%) reported improved sleep, although continued to have concerns regarding sleep. Parents of 14 children (13%) continued to report sleep problems as a major concern, with only 1 child having worse sleep after starting melatonin (1%), and 1 child having undetermined response (1%). Only 3 children had mild side-effects after starting melatonin, which included morning sleepiness and increased enuresis. There was no reported increase in seizures after starting melatonin in children with pre-existing epilepsy and no new-onset seizures. The majority of children were taking psychotropic medications.
Melatonin appears to be a safe and well-tolerated treatment for insomnia in children with autism spectrum disorders. Controlled trials to determine efficacy appear warranted.