A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Spring, 2019 | Number 2, Volume 33

Melatonin improves sleep, behavior in kids with ASD

Prolonged-release melatonin appears to improve sleep and reduce externalizing behaviors such as hyperactivity and aggression in children with autism spectrum disorders(ASD), according to a new study. In addition, the researchers report giving melatonin to children with ASD improves the quality of life for their parents.

One hundred and twenty-five children from 24 sites participated in the study by Athanasios Maras, Carmen Schroder, and colleagues. In the first part of the study, half of the children took pediatric prolonged-release melatonin (2 mg for 3 weeks, followed by either 2 or 5 mg for 10 weeks). The other half of the children received a placebo. Afterward, children in both groups participated in a nine-month open-label trial in which they took melatonin (2 or 5 mg per day for 18 weeks and then 2, 5, or 10 mg for the remainder of the trial).

The researchers report that in the first part of the study, children taking melatonin slept better and exhibited significant improvements on the Child Externalizing Behavior Scale of the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire(SDQ). The improvements in sleep quality continued during the open-label part of the study, with children falling asleep more quickly and sleeping longer. The only side effects seen were fatigue and mood swings in a small percentage of participants. The children’s parents reported greater satisfaction with their children’s sleep, improvements in their own sleep, and improvements in their quality of life. Schroder comments that the team’s findings show that “pediatric prolonged-release melatonin is efficient not only short term but maintains its effect long-term in children and adolescents with ASD and has positive effects on their caregivers.”

The researchers found that the effective dose of melatonin varied widely. About one-third of the children needed only a 2 mg dose, about half needed 5 mg, and the remainder needed 10 mg.


“Melatonin benefits kids with autism, upsparents’ quality of life,” Liam Davenport, Med-scape.com, April 15, 2019. Maras and colleagues presented their findings at the European Psychiatric Association Congress in April 2019