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Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the brain to control your daily sleep and wake cycle. It is thought that patterns of melatonin secretion may be irregular in autistic children either producing less melatonin than is needed or producing it at a different time of day.  For some autistic children specialists may prescribe melatonin to support sleep problems.

Sleep Hygiene First

There can be many reasons children struggle with sleep. For the majority sleep issues are behavioural in nature and can be supported through good sleep hygiene habits.  For many autistic children there are additional sensory differences that may mean changes to the environment including things like clothing, sound or lighting that can make a big difference.

You will be expected to have followed sleep hygiene advice before you will be able to be referred for further support around sleep. You can get advice on sleep support on the following links:

It is often helpful to keep a sleep diary to help identify issues and patterns – SCOPE sleep diary

Melatonin brands & dose

If your child is still struggling with sleep then melatonin may be prescribed by specialists – usually a pediatrician. Ideally melatonin will be used short term to assist a child to form better sleep patterns.  A tolerance can build up over time meaning it becomes less effective so it is usually recommended that breaks are built in. For example the child takes melatonin for a month then has a week off, many may choose to take a break in school holidays.

In the UK Melatonin is only available on prescription.  A course of melatonin would be prescribed by a specialist. It comes as standard tablets, slow release tablets, capsules and a liquid that you drink. Only children with an unsafe swallow can be prescribed the liquid. Brand names of melatonin prescribed include: Circadin, Adaflex, Ceyesto, Slenyto, Syncrodin.  It is usually only prescribed to autistic children to encourage healthy sleep habits for a short term period and may no longer be available for young adults.

Some will respond to a very low dose of Melatonin such as 1/2mg.  Some will need more however if a child is not benefitting from between 2-4mg it is unlikely that a higher dose will make a difference. 6mg is the most a pediatrician will prescribe for a child, for the majority a dose between 1/2mg-5 is most common. Melatonin is not right for every child so if it is not making a difference you can stop and try again at a later date or stop and go back to the specialist for further sleep support.

Please note that as at March 2023 for families in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire changes are being rolled out to the Paediatric referral criteria.  This will include a new sleep pathway.  Contact your GP in the first instance who will be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist.

Can I buy melatonin online?

The following is taken from the NHS website:

‘In some countries, melatonin is available to buy in health food shops or online. It’s sold as a complementary medicine and comes as standard capsules, tablets or a liquid that you drink.  However, these supplements are not authorised for sale in the UK and it’s a prescription-only medicine.  Ordering melatonin online is not recommended. Find out more about the dangers of buying medicines online.’

Support with Sleep

Sleep is a common challenge for many families here at Bristol Autism Support and we know all to well the impact sleep challenges have on a family. Come along to one of our coffee mornings and you will find other parents to talk to about the challenges of sleep and strategies / approaches you can use like melatonin. Click here to see our event calendar.