Oral Melatonin for Non-Respiratory Sleep Disturbance in Children with Neurodisabilities: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Aim: To evaluate the effectiveness of pharmacological interventions for managing non-respiratory sleep disturbances in children with neurodisabilities. Method: We performed a systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We searched 16 databases, grey literature, and reference lists of included papers up to February 2017. Data were extracted and assessed for quality by two researchers (B.B., C.M., G.S., A.S., A.P.). Results: Thirteen trials were included, all evaluating oral melatonin. All except one were at high or unclear risk of bias. There was a statistically significant increase in diary-reported total sleep time for melatonin compared with placebo (pooled mean difference 29.6min, 95% confidence interval [CI] 6.9–52.4, p=0.01). Statistical heterogeneity was high (97%). For the single RCT with low risk of bias, the unadjusted mean difference in total sleep time was 13.2 minutes (95% CI −13.3 to 39.7) favouring melatonin, while the mean difference adjusted for baseline total sleep time was statistically significant (22.4min, 95% CI 0.5–44.3, p=0.04). Adverse event profile suggested that melatonin was well-tolerated. Interpretation: There is a paucity of evidence on managing sleep disturbances in children with neurodisabilities, and it is mostly of limited scope and poor quality. There is evidence of the benefit and safety of melatonin compared with placebo, although the extent of this benefit is unclear. What this paper adds: Melatonin for the management of non-respiratory sleep disturbances in children with neurodisabilities was well tolerated with minimal adverse effects. The extent of benefit and which children might benefit most from melatonin use is uncertain. Benefit may be greatest in those with autism spectrum disorder; however, this finding should be interpreted with caution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)880-890
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Medicine and Child Neurology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Mac Keith Press.

Cite this