Is Melatonin a Safe Sleep Aid for Children with DD?




J Child Neurol

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Insomnia, Sleep Disorders Melatonin
Professional Data: Insomnia, Sleep Disorders Melatonin


Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. For years, scientists have known that melatonin's main function was in the control of our sleep patterns. When darkness falls melatonin levels rise, which triggers the sleep cycle.1 After puberty melatonin output begins a gradual and steady decline. Adults experience about a 37 percent decline in daily melatonin output between the ages of 20 and 70, with the majority of the decline occurring after age 40. Melatonin has been studied as having antioxidant potential,2 as a treatment for jet lag,3 and as a treatment for insomnia in several populations. Since melatonin is not available in a food source, individuals with low melatonin levels have been the subjects of studies on insomnia and melatonin supplementation.

A study reported in the August 2001 edition of the Journal of Child Neurology looked at the use of melatonin in a specific population. In addressing the needs of children diagnosed with developmental disabilities, researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, decided to test the safety and efficacy of melatonin as a sleep aid for these children. The study, which was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled 6-week trial was established to test melatonin against a placebo in twenty children. Of the twenty participants in the study, all but two were able to fall asleep more quickly when taking the melatonin.

The authors of this study determined that the longer it took the child to fall asleep (sleep latency), the more effective the melatonin was in assisting the child to fall asleep more quickly. In addition to the significant findings regarding sleep latency, there were no side effects noted within this six-week period of time.4


1. Brown GM. Light, melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle. J Psychiatry Neurosci. Nov 1994;19(5):345-53.
2. Oxenkrug G. Antioxidant and antiaging activity of N-acetylserotonin and melatonin in the in vivo models. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Jun;939:190-9.
3. Petrie K, et al. A Double-blind Trial of Melatonin as a Treatment for Jet Lag in International Cabin Crew. Biol Psychiatry. Apr1993;33(7):526-30.
4. Dodge NN, Wilson GA.Melatonin for treatment of sleep disorders in children with developmental disabilities. J Child Neurol. Aug 2001; 16(8):581-584.