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Does Melatonin Help ADHD?

Using Melatonin for ADHD may help increase concentration and regulate important sleep cycles.
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Melatonin may help induce sleep in children and adults with ADHD.

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a behavioral disorder in children and adults. Any child who is afflicted with this disorder may be hyperactive, inattentive, and have sleeping problems.

A study examined extensive data on the safety and efficacy of melatonin for treating sleeplessness in children with ADHD; and the researchers found it useful and safe in inducing sleep in the young insomniacs.

So, does Melatonin treat ADHD? Yes, it does. Read on to find out more about the ADHD and Melatonin connection. 

Sleep and ADHD

Although sleep issues aren’t part of the diagnosis of ADHD, many individuals with ADHD have sleep troubles. Racing thoughts and restlessness are common, making it difficult to have healthy sleep patterns. Other individuals with ADHD might have trouble waking up in the morning or staying awake throughout the day even though they sleep plenty at night. Researchers have identified four major sleep issues affecting individuals with ADHD:

Initiation Insomnia

Most individuals with ADHD have trouble shutting off their thoughts at night so they can sleep. Many individuals with ADHD get extra energy at night, which makes falling asleep difficult. Their brain starts thinking about everything but sleep, causing them to stay awake far longer than normal.

About 15 percent of children with ADHD have trouble sleeping from a young age. By age 12, 50 percent of children with ADHD have trouble sleeping. By age 30, about 70 percent of individuals with ADHD have trouble falling asleep at night. Some adults with ADHD spend an hour or more trying to sleep at night.

Restless Sleep

Most individuals with ADHD (adults and kids) sleep restlessly at night. This could mean they wake up easily at the sound of any noise. They may move around a lot in the bed. They might wake frequently from dreams. They may dream a lot every night. Many individuals with ADHD wake up tired, even if they have been “asleep” for eight hours or more.

Difficulty Waking

Up to 80 percent of kids and adults with ADHD report trouble waking in the morning. They may sleep through alarms, feel cranky and groggy in the morning. A lot of individuals with ADHD may take several hours to rouse properly, and many individuals with ADHD are not ready to face full activity levels until 10 AM or later.

Intrusive Sleep

Not everyone with ADHD suffers from intrusive sleep, but for those who have it, it can be a serious problem. During intrusive sleep, a person with ADHD will feel suddenly bored to the point of exhaustion by certain activities. Brain scans show that the nervous system disengages, causing sudden drowsiness and sometimes even actual sleep. In some cases, this sudden loss of consciousness can be dangerous, such as if it occurs during long drives.

Why Does ADHD Cause Sleep Issues?

There are differing expert opinions on why a person with ADHD will often have sleep troubles. In general, most physicians agree that sleep issues occur from a lack of management functions in the brain. Basically, your brain ought to tell you when to sleep and when to be awake, but when you have ADHD, your brain doesn’t necessarily send those signals at appropriate times.

ADHD-related sleep issues are commonly strongest in women, because of the way that ADHD manifests in the female body. Women do not show the hyperactive symptoms of ADHD as much (although they can). A woman with ADHD typically is not so much hyperactive in body as in mind. At night, this is particularly visible because women often have a harder time shutting of their thinking brain in general, and it is sometimes near impossible for women with ADHD.

Once asleep, however, most individuals (women, men, and kids) with ADHD fall into a “death-like” sleep, that is extremely difficult to rouse them from.

Some researchers have hypothesized that one overlooked symptom of ADHD is a lack of a properly working circadian clock, which ties into another common symptom of ADHD- the inability to tell how long time has passed. Since melatonin helps set the circadian clock, melatonin has been used successfully for years to help regulate the sleep cycle of individuals with ADHD.

What is Melatonin?

The pineal gland, the organ responsible for producing melatonin in the body, is located at the center of the brain but outside the blood-brain barrier. This means that it produces its effects outside of the central nervous system.

Melatonin acts mostly on specific receptors but also serves as an antioxidant. It is a derivative of the amino acid, tryptophan from which it is synthesized according to a four-step process.

Melatonin can be found in plants and animals. Examples of plants containing melatonin are St John’s wort, Feverfew, banana, cherries and grapes. Other dietary sources of melatonin include rice, cereals, olive oil and wine.

In plants, melatonin fulfills 3 purposes: it serves as an antioxidant; it regulates the response of plants to light; and it contributes to the hardiness of plants allowing them to thrive in harsh environments.

However, melatonin from dietary sources does not increase the plasma concentration of the neurohormone in humans. To increase melatonin levels in the body, it must be taken as a supplement.

Melatonin and the Circadian Cycle

Melatonin is an endocrine hormone which contributes to the sleep-wake or circadian cycle. It is secreted during the dark hours. Its secretion is especially inhibited by the blue light (between the wavelengths 460nm and 480nm) of daytime.

Melatonin is only part of the system regulating the sleep cycle. Contrary to popular belief, the circadian cycle is chiefly controlled by the central nervous system and not by melatonin. Melatonin is only responsible for drowsiness and reducing the body temperature.

Ideally, children produce the highest levels of melatonin regularly. Therefore, they sleep early and deeply. Adults, however, produce less amounts of melatonin and the hormone is released from the pineal gland much later than in children.

Children with ADHD have melatonin profiles much closer to those of adults. Therefore, they are restless even hyperactive during the night and have trouble falling asleep.

ADHD and Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural occurring hormone in the body, and it is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain.

It helps maintain other hormones and regulates the body’s internal clock.

Melatonin is often included in natural ADHD supplements. It has been known to calm the body and induce sleep.

Melatonin also works as a powerful antioxidant. In a study, it was found that melatonin is 60 times more effective than Vitamin E or Vitamin C in protecting DNA from damage.

Children with ADHD are over active and get little or no sleep at all. They jump, fight, and play throughout the day, and often doesn't sleep well.

The sleeplessness in such kids can be corrected with melatonin supplements. Recent research has proved that children with ADHD do not have adequate melatonin production and this keeps them hyperactive even at night.

Melatonin is recognized for its role in sleep regulation. The supplement helps stimulate sleep in children with disrupted circadian rhythms.

Melatonin is notably more effective in reducing the time required to fall asleep, thus increasing the number of sleeping hours, and improving daytime attentiveness.

Studies on Melatonin and ADHD

Several studies have been conducted on the usefulness of melatonin supplements for children with ADHD. It is important to remember that melatonin is a hormone, and it is not a sleep medication. Melatonin only tells the body that it is time to sleep. It is important to remember than when using it for ADHD.

A study from 2007 published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry studied the effects of melatonin on children with ADHD. The researchers found that melatonin helped regulate the circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycle of the children who took melatonin. The supplement did not have any effects on any other symptoms of ADHD, however.

A similar study published in the Iranian Journal of Psychiatry in 2012 found comparable results. The study authors found that while melatonin helped children with ADHD stay asleep longer and fall asleep faster, it did not have any effects on other symptoms of ADHD.

Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?

Melatonin supplements are highly controversial. Although melatonin supplements are readily available over the counter, some health professionals do not believe that this should be the case. Melatonin can be beneficial for individuals with ADHD, but there is some debate that it is safe for kids to take regularly.

In general, melatonin has been found to be safe for children over the age of six to take, although sometimes in smaller doses than what is included in over the counter pills.

Common side effects of melatonin in children are grogginess, headaches, and bedwetting. However, the long-term effects of melatonin on kids has not been studied. If you chose to use melatonin supplements with children, stick to the lowest dose possible to avoid the potential risks of side effects. Only use melatonin under the guidance and observation of a doctor. If melatonin has no beneficial effects on your child, there is no reason to keep giving it to them.

When to Avoid Melatonin
  • When insomnia is temporary
  • When insomnia is caused by an illness
  • When insomnia is from a health trigger, like RLS or sleep apnea
  • When children are younger than four

How to Use Melatonin with ADHD

The Mayo Clinic reports that melatonin supplements are safe in doses between 0.5 milligram a day and 5 milligrams a day. Children are advised to take the lowest dose possible, gradually increasing if necessary. A 2001 study published by MIT concluded that for zero side effects, melatonin dosages should remain between 0.3 and 1 milligrams per day.

Since melatonin is a sleep hormone, take it about 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep. Make the melatonin more effective by engaging in screen-free, relaxing activities before bed, such as a warm bath, reading a book, or drinking hot tea. These other relaxing activities will help work with the melatonin to trigger your brain into going into sleep mode.

Additionally, avoid all sources of blue light before bed. Many “daylight” bulbs have the blue light cast that makes your brain think it is still daylight. Dim as many lights as possible at night, so that you can help your brain realize it is sleep time. Watching the sunset also helps kickstart your brain into sleep mode.

Don’t take melatonin for more than a few weeks at a time to prevent dependency. Keep a journal of your sleep habits every day you take melatonin to see if the hormone is benefitting your sleep, or possibly making it worse. Consult with a doctor before giving melatonin to children, or if you want to take it for longer than a few weeks.

Other Benefits of Melatonin

Melatonin might provide a secondary benefit for people diagnosed with ADHD through its antioxidant property. It is a very powerful antioxidant which can easily cross the blood-brain barrier and cellular membranes.

Melatonin is superior to Vitamin C as an antioxidant. Unlike the vitamin, it is a terminal antioxidant. While there is a possibility of releasing the free radicals that Vitamin C removes from the body, melatonin irreversibly removes the harmful free radicals from the body.

While melatonin is used to treat one symptom of ADHD (hyperactivity at night or sleep difficulties), it is sometimes combined with other ADHD medications to provide better results.

Stimulants used in ADHD treatment such as Adderall and Ritalin sometimes cause hyperactivity which can make it difficult for suffers to sleep at night. In such cases, melatonin is prescribed alongside to help induce sleep.

Melatonin Dosage for ADHD Children

The standard melatonin dosage suggested by medical experts for children with ADHD is 0.5 mg per night, administered one hour before sleep.

In some cases parents have administered dosage as high as 3-5 mg without any side effects. However, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before deciding the dosage for your child.

Are There Any Side Effects?

The human body naturally produces melatonin hormones at night to trigger the body into its sleep cycle. This is known as “endogenous” melatonin. When you take melatonin supplements, this is called “exogenous” melatonin.

The trouble with melatonin can start due to how it is sold and marketed in the United States. Melatonin is a hormone, but it is marketed just like an herbal supplement. This means that manufacturers are not required to stick to certain dosage amounts or list potential side effects on their labels.

Since the sale and dosage of melatonin are not regulated, it is common to see supplements with massive doses of melatonin, sometimes up to 20 milligrams. As the recommended dosage is anywhere from 0.3 to 1 milligram, a dosage of 20 milligrams is far too high, yet the lack of regulation means that even products marketed toward young children might contain a dose that is far too much for a child.

The biggest risk to supplementing with melatonin is for children. A common side effect is daytime drowsiness, especially if the dosage is too high. Consuming high doses of any hormone can interfere with a child’s normal hormonal development, possible affecting puberty, impeding hormonal development, and even disrupting menstrual cycles in teen girls.

Other side effects include hypothermia, kidney problems, and liver problems in men. Some individuals who take melatonin for long periods report an increase in insomnia and other sleep problems after several months of use.

Melatonin is safe for most adults when taken by mouth for short-term.  In one extensive clinical research study, a high dose of 75mg/ day was given to 1400 women for a 4-year period and no serious side effects found.

However, in some cases, it might cause some side effects including headache, short-term feelings of depression, dizziness, stomach cramps, daytime drowsiness, and irritability.

Melatonin is known to cause vivid dreams and even nightmares especially in high doses. This is because the medication increases the duration and depth of REM part of the sleep cycle and also increases dream activity.

Furthermore, high doses of melatonin can disrupt the circadian cycle producing effects resembling jetlag by inducing sleep during the day and wakefulness at night.

If any of the above symptoms persist, consult your health care practitioner immediately. You must talk to your physician before giving Melatonin supplements to your child.

As a short-term solution, melatonin can be used to rest the circadian clock and help reset the sleep-wake cycle. However, there is some evidence that suggests that melatonin taken over the long term can reduce the amount of melatonin that your body produces naturally, creating a dependence on the hormonal supplement. This can be dangerous for anyone, but is particularly dangerous for children.

Are There Any Drug Interactions?

Melatonin might interact or interfere with other drugs. You must avoid using Melatonin supplements if you are already taking the following medications:

Antidepressants; blood pressure medications; anticoagulants; blood-thinning medications; benzodiazepines; tamoxifen; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; steroids and immunosuppressant medications.

Where to Get Melatonin

Melatonin is cheap and easy to get. You can find Melatonin supplements in most health food stores in the US. Look for melatonin that has low doses, of 1 milligram or less. Do not take melatonin for extended periods of time, and do not give it to children unless your doctor recommends it.

For more information about ADHD treatments, read our articles on DMAE, GABA and Phosphatidylserinefor ADHD.

Other Treatments for ADHD-Related Sleep Issues

Melatonin is not the only solution for ADHD-related insomnia. In fact melatonin and ADHD are just one piece of the puzzle. Without other methods to promote healthy sleep, melatonin won’t have much effect on your sleep habits at all. Use the following tips to fight ADHD-related insomnia when using melatonin, and any other time.

Tips for A Good Night’s Sleep
  • Use the bed for sleep only
  • Have a strict bedtime and wake time, even on weekends
  • Don’t nap
  • Sleep as soon as getting in bed
  • Do not have blue lights in the bedroom
  • Make your bedroom a screen-free zone
  • Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon/evening
  • Keep your room cool
  • Use a fan to block out noise
  • Watch the sun set and rise every day

 


Melatonin and ADHD: Effective in Some Cases

Melatonin is a hormone that your body uses to regulate your hormones and set your circadian rhythm. Without the right amount of melatonin, your body struggles to get to sleep and stay asleep. Taking melatonin supplements can help rest your circadian clock, allowing you to get a better night’s sleep. Studies have found that melatonin is effective in boosting the sleep of individuals with ADHD.

However, there are some risks in taking melatonin. It should not be used long-term, and the risks of taking the supplement might outweigh the benefits in children. Don’t give melatonin to children without the oversight of a doctor. Adults with ADHD can benefit from the temporary use of melatonin, but should not take it as a daily supplement to avoid the potential for side effects and dependency.

Sources


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428643/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17242627

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