Autism, Sleep, Melatonin and Clonidine – Oh My!

Over the past 6 ½ years I’ve talked to hundreds of other parents of children on the autism spectrum and one of the challenges that we all seem to have in common is sleep. Or, as Kristy Speer said in a guest post from January, ‘Autism and Sleep (or Rather the Lack Thereof).’ Yes, the lack thereof is the kicker.

My two children went from sleeping through the night at a few months of age to barely sleeping at a few years of age. Talk about a flip-flop! I guess that was my payback for those early brags, ‘Yeah, he sleeps through the night, it is great!’

When the sleep challenges began we consulted with the professionals and our occupational therapist suggested heavy work activities. This would help regulate their sensory systems and perhaps tire them out a bit. Well, their sensory systems were pretty well regulated but ‘tired’ was not an adjective that I could use to describe either of them just a few years ago.

With my pediatrician’s blessing, we tried melatonin. Holy moly, the kids slept. Not only did they sleep but they were happier and more engaged during the daytime. A happier and well-rested child is a child that is in a better position to learn, and learn they did. I know that there’s been quite a bit of controversy about medicating a child in order to get them to sleep but honestly, we didn’t give them melatonin out of convenience, it was definitely a matter of necessity.

Melatonin use in children on the autism spectrum was the focus of a 2008 study out of Vanderbilt University.

“Twenty-five percent of parents reported they no longer had sleep concerns after using melatonin, 60 percent of parents reported the sleep problems had improved, 13 percent still had major concerns and only 1 percent (one child) had worse symptoms.”

As I said in my 2008 blog post on the topic, “My son falls into the 60 percent of children who have seen an improvement in sleep. My daughter falls into the 25 percent of children who no longer have sleep issues.”

After some time on melatonin, it stopped working for my son. He also has epilepsy and so sleep is very important to keeping him seizure free. Since his sleep challenges were back, the doctor prescribed clonidine to help him fall and stay asleep. He’s been taking clonidine for about five years now. Hopefully one day he can stop taking it but for now, he finds that he can’t fall asleep without it.

About Melissa

Melissa is the mother of two children on the autism spectrum and strives to provide information about all aspects of autism through her blog, The Autism Education Site. Follow Melissa on Twitter. Like me on Facebook.

© Melissa Hincha-Ownby and The Autism Education Site, 2008-2014.