The Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center has been involved in research to see if they could find a way to help children who have autism spectrum disorders be able to sleep though the night and they have found that the level of sleep is related to the level of melatonin that the body produces.
They say right off that they need to do more research before they can recommend that the children in the study who do not take medication begin to take over the counter melatonin supplements, even with the promising outcomes of the study.
Melatonin is known to affect the sleep patterns as well as the brain development. It is release while we sleep by a gland called the pineal gland, which is located in the brain. There have been reports of children with autism having low levels of melatonin, but studies have not been done to see of the levels are related to their sleep problems.
In this study, there were 26 children with autism who were the participants. They were not on any medication, did not have any history of epilepsy or any form of mental retardation. There were seven children in a control group who were matched to the first group by age. They studied the connection between one of the by-products of melatonin that is found in the urine and called urinary 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (6-SM) and the sleep patterns in the children with autism, all between the ages of 4 to 9.
It was very important for the success of the study that the children all have a definite diagnosis of ASD and that they not be on any type of medication, because the medications can have an effect on the production of melatonin.
The researchers analyzed what the overnight rate of 6-SM in the urine were over the space of two nights. They then compared them with the findings from sleep studies that showed that children who had higher levels of 6-SM also had higher amounts of deep sleep, which is the sleep pattern that is involved in the memory and growth.