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Sleep disturbances in autism have led researchers to investigate melatonin’s role in this spectrum of disorders. It was found that autistic patients have low melatonin levels caused by a primary deficit in ASMT gene activity (1). In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, investigators tested children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (n = 103) and healthy children (n = 73) for serum melatonin, the oxidants of nitric oxide, and malondialdehyde levels. Overall, children diagnosed with ASD and positive family history had higher serum melatonin and nitric oxide levels, with significantly lower malondialdehyde/melatonin ratios, suggesting greater impaired oxidant-antioxidant metabolism and balance in children with ASD (2).


A review article found that patients with autism had improved sleep parameters, better daytime behavior, and minimal side effects with melatonin use (3). Research has suggested that melatonin is effective as a sleep inductor; doses between 1–5 mg can be used thirty minutes before bedtime. For delayed sleep phase syndrome, doses between 0.2–0.5 mg have been most effective when given six to eight hours before desired sleep (4).


Authors: Deanna Minich, Ph.D., Melanie Henning, ND, Catherine Darley, ND, Mona Fahoum, ND, Corey B. Schuler, DC, James Frame

Reviewer: Peer-review in Nutrients Journal

Last updated: September 22, 2022




1.  Melke J, Goubran Botros H, Chaste P, Betancur C, Nygren G, Anckarsäter H, et al. Abnormal melatonin synthesis in autism spectrum disorders. Mol Psychiatry. 2008;13(1).

2.  Rana M, Kothare S, Debassio W. The assessment and treatment of sleep abnormalities in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: A review. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2021;30(1).

3.  Rossignol DA, Frye RE. Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Vol. 53, Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. 2011.

4.  Sletten TL, Magee M, Murray JM, Gordon CJ, Lovato N, Kennaway DJ, et al. Efficacy of melatonin with behavioural sleep-wake scheduling for delayed sleep-wake phase disorder: A double-blind, randomised clinical trial. PLoS Med. 2018;15(6).

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