However, most of us are not too familiar with melatonin, the hormone.
Melatonin the hormone is produced in every cell in our body, but the major source comes from the pineal gland.
When melatonin is released from the pineal gland, it aids in synchronizing the body’s internal circadian clock and daily rhythm in different parts of the body, with peak levels occurring at night-time.
Melatonin regulates the sleep/wake cycle by making the person drowsy and lowering the body temperature.
Melatonin’s response to light and darkness is very important for sleep cycles.
For instance newborn babies take about three months before melatonin levels are normal and before the sleep cycle is regulated.
Teenagers, on the other hand, have a delay in the release of melatonin which leads to later sleep time and later wake-up time.
Melatonin has often been referred to as the “sleep hormone”, but essentially a person just sleeps better when melatonin is secreted.
Many children today struggle with sleep issues.
Some have difficulty falling asleep while others have difficulty staying asleep.
The autism spectrum population at all ages has great difficulty maintaining healthy sleep patterns of any kind.
The Effect of Stress on Melatonin Production
When stress (especially chronic stress) and anxiety increase, cortisol levels will rise, adrenals will fatigue and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis becomes dysfunctional.
This domino effect decreases the body’s production of melatonin and alters the body’s natural circadian rhythms; therefore, many children have poor sleep patterns.
However, children with autism may have additional sleep deterrents not only because of decreased levels of melatonin but also due to elevated cortisol levels, extreme anxiety, possible elevated testosterone levels, a dominant sympathetic nervous system in fight or flight mode, and many obsessive behaviors.
It stands to reason that if children are not sleeping, then neither are the parents.
A variety of solutions may be necessary.
How to Supplement
Some parents, working with their healthcare practitioners, have used melatonin supplements which are found in spray, liquid, sublingual, capsule and extended release forms.
It is important to work with a healthcare practitioner to determine the appropriate dosing.
Here are some natural ways to improve and protect your child’s melatonin production:
- Goji berries, almonds, sunflower seeds, coriander and cherries all have small amounts of melatonin in them.
- Limit TV and computer at least one hour before going to bed. Artificial lighting disrupts melatonin production.
- During the day get enough bright full-spectrum sun exposure to help create more melatonin in the pineal gland.
- Sleep in complete darkness and keep electrical devices away from the child’s bed.
- Use low wattage yellow, orange or red light bulbs at night to see if necessary.
- Keep bedroom temperature at 68-70 degrees.
- Have a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bed.
- Avoid using loud alarm clocks.
- Try to get your child to have some morning sun (no sunglasses or tinted lenses!) so their circadian clock gets the message.
- Reduce electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your child’s bedroom.
Additional Benefits of Melatonin
Recent research on the hormone melatonin has shown that there are many other benefits from this “sleep hormone” that are truly worth considering as a nutritional supplement:
- Powerful antioxidant that crosses the blood brain barrier
- Reduces excess inflammation
- Provides neuro-protective and anti-aging effects
- Strengthens the immune system
- Regulates mood
- Reported low levels of melatonin in heart disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and post menopausal osteoporosis.
- Controls skin pigmentation – those with insomnia have paler skin