Melatonin and sleep disorders associated with intellectual disability: a clinical review

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BackgroundMelatonin is used to treat sleep disorders in both children and adults with intellectual disability (ID), although it has no product license for such use. The evidence for its efficacy, potential adverse effects and drug interactions are reviewed in the context of prescribing to people with ID.MethodsA literature search was performed using multiple electronic databases. More literature was obtained from the reference lists of papers gathered through the searches.ResultsMost of the studies were uncontrolled and the few controlled trials available were of small size. Melatonin appears effective in reducing sleep onset latency and is probably effective in improving total sleep time in children and adolescents with ID. It appears to be ineffective in improving night-time awakenings. Melatonin is relatively safe for short-term use. Its safety for long-term use is not established. Potential drug interactions, possible effects on puberty and concerns regarding the use of melatonin in epilepsy, asthma and depressive disorders are discussed.ConclusionsMelatonin appears to be an effective sleep-initiator for children and adolescents with ID and probably has a similar effect for adults. There may be heterogeneity of response depending on the nature of the sleep problem and cause of the ID or associated disabilities. Further studies are necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn and guidelines for the use of melatonin for people with ID formulated.

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