Saturday 23 December 2017

Melatonin .... A topic that can put you to sleep. Literally!

**** If you feel that you or your child would benefit from using Melatonin, please consult your GP or a trusted medical professional first. ****

Melatonin. It has certainly been a game changer in terms of sleep for us.

Once upon a time L slept through the night - back when he was about 6 weeks old. When this first occurred I thought, you beauty! However it was very short lived as L stopped sleeping through the night at about 4 and a half months old.

We then went for a number of years of sleepless nights before our paediatrician put us onto Melatonin. Oh my, I wish we'd been put onto this magical liquid amber earlier.

As we have since discovered, sleep disturbances and sleep disorders are quite common among individuals who are on the spectrum. It is a common topic among families who are on an autism journey as they compare notes on what does or doesn't work for their children.

Sleep disturbances are very disruptive to all - to the individual with the sleep disturbance and also to those around them. In regards to autism studies, sleep disturbances often take a back seat role as in the overall scheme of things, medical professionals will often work on other pressing issues before tackling the sleep disturbance.

It is unclear why sleep disturbances are quite common among those on the spectrum but one train of thought is that individuals with Autism simply do not produce enough Melatonin. Not producing enough Melatonin would then disrupt the individuals circadian rhythm. And as such many individuals on the spectrum need to use Melatonin to get the elusive good nights sleep.

Using Melatonin comes from research that started in the 1990's. The research showed that as some individuals with ASD had reduced Melatonin levels, then Melatonin supplements would raise their levels and therefore help with sleep.

So what is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced and secreted in our bodies by the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a very small gland found in the brain.

During the day the pineal gland is inactive, however when the sun begins to go down the pineal gland is kicked into action and Melatonin, or the Dracula of Hormones, is released!

Melatonin is important in helping to regulate our circadian rhythm, or our internal body clock, and regulating our cycle of sleep and wakefulness. Melatonin levels in our body vary in our twenty four hour cycles. 

Normally our bodies production of Melatonin is reduced by simply being in bright light and the levels increase at night time. Hence why it is often referred to as the "Dracula of Hormones" or "the Hormone of Darkness!"

We have receptors in the back of our eyes that when they receive light, they send a signal to the pineal gland which then suppresses the production of Melatonin. When natural light decreases, Melatonin levels are gradually increased and they remain high while it is dark. When the receptors are again exposed to light in the morning, Melatonin production is suppressed and our Melatonin levels drop.

There is a chain of thought that we can boost our natural production of Melatonin by increasing our exposure to sunlight. It is thought that by increasing our sunlight exposure and therefore increasing our Vitamin D intake, that our Melatonin production will be increased.

Blue light on the other hand will impede the production of Melatonin.

We use a liquid Melatonin that is only available via prescription. It certainly assists L, and at times O, to fall asleep quicker than they normally would. Within half an hour of taking a dose, L will usually fall asleep. When O needs to use Melatonin, she certainly falls asleep a lot quicker and will get a decent nights sleep.

However ....

When L was first prescribed Melatonin, our pediatrician told us that there was a chance that the Melatonin would not keep L asleep. The tricky thing about Melatonin is that in most cases it will help you fall asleep, but if you're not tired, the Melatonin will not keep you asleep.

Most of the time by using the Melatonin, L is able to get at least 4 or 5 hours of good sleep, then after that he will toss and turn and be awake for periods throughout the night.

I also want to add that in saying how useful Melatonin is to us, I will also say that we have tried a lot of other natural solutions, and still use them as part of our bed time routines, prior to using Melatonin.

We've tried white noise, night lights, essential oils and other solutions. The majority of these solutions simply assist L to wind down but none of them help L to go to sleep. L certainly benefits from using Melatonin.

Melatonin has become part of my little superheroes bedtime routine and I would honestly recommend it anyone who is looking for another solution to their bedtime woes.

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