Ever wonder what the side effects from long term use of melatonin are?

If you have a kid who doesn’t sleep, especially a child with autism, chances are you have heard about the ol’ save all – Melatonin. It helps these kids sleep and it’s natural. What could be better than that?

Because sleep is important. I remember when I used to sleep, it was nice, I miss it.


So we started Sammy on Melatonin shortly after his diagnosis in 2007, after his therapist and other autism parents told me how great it is. And we used it regularly for over a year. Though it helped, it was far from a cure for our sleepless nights. It seemed to work great some nights and others it seemed to have no effect on him at all. I have found no pattern or trigger explaining why he doesn’t sleep on some nights. It seems he just has good weeks and bad weeks. And he has never been a sleeper. He was one and a half before he slept through the night.

So then I started wondering if there were any side effects associated with Melatonin.

I think we are so quick to assume that it is safe because Melatonin occurs naturally in our bodies. But there are side effects.

My search didn’t turn up too many scary side effects. Just the usual: upset stomach, drowsiness, headache, possible mood changes, …ok I can handle that…. but then some that concerned me a bit like depression, hallucinations, nightmares, changes in blood pressure, and reduced body temperature.

But the one that really bothered me and made me decide to stop giving him Melatonin was the growth hormone issues. Since Melatonin is a hormone, unnatural amounts of it can throw off the natural balance of other hormones in our bodies. And that may cause issues like breast growth in males, or shrinkage of the testicles, or infertility in females.  

“Melatonin side effects include decreased sperm count and motility, and women attempting to become pregnant should not take melatonin because it may decrease their fertility. Breast enlargement in men taking melatonin has been reported, according to the NIH. Other hormonal effects associated with melatonin supplements include decreases or increases in progesterone, estradiol, thyroid hormone, growth hormone, prolactin, cortisol and others. Taking melatonin supplements during pregnancy may raise melatonin levels high enough to increase the risk of developmental disorders. Breastfeeding women also should not take melatonin as it can be transferred to the baby.” <– that’s from this website: http://www.livestrong.com/article/95733-side-effects-melatonin/#ixzz1qZ7urU5U

And there have been studies in lab rodents where their testicles shrank. It really concerns me that there haven’t been any long-term studies on how Melatonin affects children. But the idea of it affecting his growth and development scared me away from it. That was years ago….

But Sam still won’t sleep. And many times when he stays up all night he ends up sleeping all morning and missing school. I used to just wake him up and make him go to school. But he had a really grumpy, tired day once and I guess he disrupted class all day and his teacher said he needs to be well rested to attend school. So he ends up staying home. And his sleeplessness is really affecting his attendance. Not to mention I am completely exhausted and sleep deprived.

So once again I was half asleep texting his teacher to tell her he was up all night and is sleeping now and most likely will not wake up in time to make it to school. And she asked if we ever tried Melatonin. And I thought, hmmmmm…. I might just be at that point again.

So I bought the melatonin, and that night we woke up at 4am. And he was really upset. He was tense and sad and standing on his toes and just really out of sorts. And man I was so tired. So I gave him the melatonin and he was asleep in 20 minutes. It was amazing. Usually once he’s up he is up for hours.

But then I googled “melatonin side effects” again. And it bummed me out. They really don’t know what long-term use does to our kids. But there is definitely evidence of it affecting growth hormones. He hates it, so giving it to him is tough, but for now I will definitely use it when he won’t sleep. I just don’t see it as a long-term solution.

Why don’t they sleep?

The latest tip is to maybe try tryptophan, Any one have any experience with that?

What do you use to help your kid sleep? Any advice is welcome – I need to catch some z’s.

—- Sleepless in Autismland










     Things get destroyed beyond imagination. And that destruction occurs in moments. Seconds. Fractions of seconds.

     Sammy, my son with autism, is extremely active. He is in constant motion. He is always jumping, climbing, running, dancing, etc. If he doesn’t have structure and supervision he causes mass destruction. He is big now, 7 years old, and so he has become much like having a wild bear or gorilla in the house. Things get destroyed beyond imagination. And that destruction occurs in moments. Seconds. Fractions of seconds.

   He does not sit still. His favorite pastimes are: shredding anything he can find that is shreddable (paper, cardboard, his sister’s homework, etc.) and climbing anything that is climbable (the doors, the cabinets, shelves, couches, TVs, tables chairs, the kitchen sink, the fridge, the counter, the toilet, the shower, the closets, etc.) and then jumping from and/or swinging on the thing that he just climbed.

     I’m pretty convinced that even if I removed every article of furniture from the house he would still find a way to climb all the way to the ceiling.

    And of course, when you climb and shred things all day, the best thing about that is that you can sprinkle confetti all over the house from the highest point in each room. So, a floor that has recently been cleaned can look like something out of that Febreze commercial in about 2 minutes flat.


I tried to find confetti videos on youtube to maybe help satisfy that visual stim – and he likes them – but they don’t really stop him from shredding things and making confetti in real life — this is one of his favorite videos at the moment:


   Cue the crazy, tired mama

        So I have a question for anyone who reads my ramblings. What do you suggest I do with Sam to help decrease the chaos and destruction at home?  He needs activities that are messy, full of movement, and confetti, and in a perfect world – activities that I can orchestrate easily, isolate to one room, and that will occupy him while I clean, cook, tend to my daughter – you know, the usual.

     We have some tried and true favorites, like trips to the park and swimming and painting and swinging. But I need new ideas. What he needs most is sensory input. He likes deep pressure and lots of movement and impact. He is always seeking proprioceptive and vestibular input. 🙂

We have a small playroom with a hammock swing and tv and padded floor and small trampoline. But he is pretty bored with it and always wants me to push him on the swing for hours on end. I need to find more activities that he can do by himself while I get other things done around the house. The way it is now, I clean one side of the house while he destroys the other side. Then we switch. And repeat….

   The other day I was cleaning the living room and Sam was in the laundry room smashing lightbulbs and licking the broken pieces. Yup. Licking them.  So I can’t clean while he is home, and I can’t clean while I work (obv) — so when do I clean? At midnight?

    He is non stop into everything. If I leave him in the bath he squirts the toothpaste into the tub. Or sticks his head in the toilet. Or covers himself in VapoRub. We have locks now on the cabinets so we can hide the stuff now and hopefully limit the destruction. I am thinking we need some sort of climbing structure in the playroom (which is small, approx 10ftx9ft) and some way for him to jump and get impact … 

Any suggestions are much appreciated. My brain doesn’t work well after years of sleep deprivation so maybe the solution in right in front of my face and I can’t see it. Well, I can hope anyway eh? 🙂


March 2012