Natural Alternatives: Melatonin for Treating ADHD Sleep Problems

People share experiences about Melatonin, used as treatment for people with ADHD, to help them sleep better through the night. Also a warning about serious side-effects from herbal remedies.

Natural Alternatives for ADHD

Please note that melatonin is available in health food stores in the U.S. but appears to be on prescription-only in many other countries.

Mrs. N. from Canada wrote to us saying:
"Hi, I have followed your web site for many years now and am impressed by your efforts to educate people in the UK on ADD and ADHD.

While I live in Canada, I am originally from England and as the mother of a 13 year old ADD boy I have found it difficult to explain to my family in the UK the challenges and problems in raising an ADD child, as for many years very little was known about ADD in England and they still tend to be much more skeptical about its existence. Amazingly, I had a conversation with my 70 year old mother in England on the phone yesterday who was telling me about a policeman she knows who is distraught about the problems with his 10 year old son who has recently been diagnosed with ADD and my mother suddenly felt the urge to tell him she knows all about ADD as her grandson has it and went on to tell him all about our struggles. Amazing! because for years, her and my father's family, and for that matter much of my family's attitude was: "all he needs is a good hiding" and "it's because you raised him in Canada".

My son was diagnosed with ADD at 6.5 years of age but I had long known there was a problem since he was 4 and began seeking answers from medical professionals when his impulsive and attention seeking behaviours were creating problems at home and at nursery school. Like you, I became a avid researcher and read everything I could find on ADD. I wanted to prove more than anything, that my son did not have this disorder as I wanted it to be something I could fix. When I started reading the genetics of ADD, I sent all the information to my parents and my mother-in-law to see if anyone else in the family had had these problems. My mother quickly came back and said no and my mother-in-law said everything on the DSM list applied to my brother-in-law (my son's paternal uncle). We then looked at the adult criteria for ADD and realised that my father-in-law was classic ADD. Going back further, we suspect that his mother (my son's great grandmother) was also ADD as she was a very memorable women!! All of a sudden, some of father-in-law's bizarre and impulsive behaviours were explained.

As soon as I found the genetic link, I knew this was time to stop denying the fact that my son had inherited this disorder. As time passed, he displayed such similar characteristics to his uncle and grandfather, one of the most trying being the inability to sleep - he would not go to bed and came alive at 11 o'clock at night. Some nights, he would still be walking around at 2.00 am and would wake us to tell us he cannot get to sleep!!. He seldom if ever went to sleep before midnight/1.00 a.m. Worse still, he could not get out of bed in the morning - "zombie like" does not begin to describe the way he was every time I got him up for school. I have had to literally lift him out of bed every school day. He would stay in bed till noon if left. Because he was only getting 5 - 6 hours sleep a night from the age of 8 - 13, he was constantly cranky and irritable in the morning which combined with other ADD symptoms made the morning time a real challenge. The Dexedrine he was taking also exacerbated his sleep problems, although we discovered that even during the long 10 week summer break he still did not sleep and he was not taking Dexedrine at all during the time he was off school. We knew anyway the sleep problem was there long before he was diagnosed with ADD and long before he took medication for it.

I vividly remember my father in law being like this - he would stay up till all hours watching television and most nights he would fall asleep on the settee with the television blaring until he woke up freezing and would then go to bed - he just hated going to bed when there was something on the TV or something going on. My brother in law too - could not get out of bed or get going in the morning but came alive at 11.00 p.m and wanted to go out and do things. For six years he worked a night shift job and loved being up all night and sleeping all day - he said it suited him to the ground as he did not like going to bed at night. (the power of genetics!!)

After years of this my husband and I were tired of not being able to get to sleep at night because our son would be in and out of the bathroom, fridge, cupboards and lights on all over the place which meant we were getting less sleep than him. Our son is very fortunate to have as his doctor Canada's leading authority on ADD, she has conducted the longest research studies on ADD children over a 30 year period and followed them into adulthood so was very aware of the problems of inability to sleep. Her daughter is also a doctor specialising in treating children with ADD and was undergoing a study on the effects/benefits of using Melatonin to aid sleep for these children. The initial results have been very promising and on the doctors advice we agreed to try it. You cannot buy melatonin in Canada but you are allowed to travel into the US to purchase it where it is sold in health stores and pharmacies and a prescription is not required. Living close to the US border we were able to do this and bring in 3 months supply. You cannot give melatonin to children under 12. Melatonin is released naturally in the body as the light changes - it is natures way of regulating sleep - the darker it gets the more melatonin is released which brings on the feeling of tiredness and desire to sleep. We were convinced our son was devoid of this natural substance so were keen to introduce it to him!!

He has been taking one tablet at night for the past 6 weeks and the results have been amazing - for the first time ever since he was a baby he has gone to bed on his own as he is tired. We have never had a situation at night where he has not been up when we are ready to go to bed and where we have not had to nag and cajole him into going to bed. Now he his happy to go to bed and the difference in demeanor is amazing. He has been a lot calmer, not as cranky, reactive or emotional, he even gets out of bed on his own at the weekends as he wakes up on his own. Even his teachers have commented that it is less disruptive and more attentive. School mornings are not as stressful - I still have to drag him out of bed but he is certainly in a better mood when I do it as he has usually had a good 9 hours sleep by then. He loves the fact that he is tired at night as he told me he did not know what being tired felt like!! For years we had him swimming and biking and doing Tae kwon do at night in the hope it would tire him out but nothing worked.

People did not believe us when we told them we could not get our son to go to sleep - he never was a good sleeper even as a baby and woke up 5 times a night. We now know this is common with ADD children and like his uncle and grandfather he will probably be a night owl but we hope that while he is in school and studying we can help him to get the correct amount of sleep he needs for effective learning.

As parents we have always been wary of giving any medication to our child - we resisted the idea of using stimulant medication and tried everything else to assist him at school with little or no results. We now realise that without medication our son cannot focus at school - it is a physical impossibility for him not to mention the problems he gets into because of his impulsivity. He himself realises this and can see the benefit of the medication and would not dream of going to school without it. He is also now seeing the results of his improved sleep patterns - most noticeably for him has been the improved looks as he always had large bags under his eyes which have now all but disappeared and he feels more relaxed in the mornings.

We still worry about what the future will hold for our son but we will continue to look for new ways of treating ADD and he is involved in all the decisions so we have the benefit of him being on side and knowing that we will do whatever it takes to help him achieve his potential."

Rebecca wrote to us saying......

I have a daughter who is now 11 who has had trouble sleeping all her life. She, too, would get up through the night and create havock. We had just figured out that she had ADHD without the hyperactivity. I had just put her on a treatment of melatonin and magnesium and B complex. It's only been a few days but she had breezed through her homework this morning without incident! That is a first in her 7 years in school. We are very excited.

Last year, I was told to try magnesium and valarian root. However, the valarian was way too strong for her and she was then too hungover the next day. But the melatonin seems to be working great!

Judy wrote to us saying......

Mrs. N's story could have been written by me. It is identical to the problems that we were having with our second son. He has been taking melatonin for years without a problem. One tablet at night and he sleeps 8-9 hours.

He was 8 years old when a police officer came to our door asking for information about a car theft across the street. As the theft was very late at night we said no, we were in bed by 10. Josh popped around the corner and said "Did it leave the driveway about three am? Cause I was awake counting the cars that drove by and saw a car drive out without lights at that time." We were amazed! We had no idea that he was up so late at night. Since that night, we have had him on Melatonin and the results are phenomenal.

He is much happier and able to handle the day better. During the summer he takes vitamins we buy from Melaleuca instead of his medication. It is a multi-vitamin, mood enhancer (w/St.. John's wart & more) and cardio vascular combineation. He has had his first summer medicine free thanks to Melaleuca! I am going to look into the B complex & magnesium I have read about on your website to see if it will help him also. I use magnesium and B complex to prevent migraines, so maybe he has inherited a deficiency.

Tammy wrote to us saying......


I have a curious story for you. Recently, my husband has started taking Melatonin for his insominia. He works the "third shift" usually from 5:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. give or take acouple of hours here and there. He first started taking 3 mg at night. Well, he went to sleep alright! He awoke me and the entire household with horrible nightmares and fits of physically kicking me out of bed! He is not a violent person by any means, so this has caused a real concern for us. He has "whittled down" the dosage to only a quarter of a tablet with the same devastating results. He continued with the nightmares [always very violent and vivid dreams] to the point that he has stopped taking it. Could anyone please let me know if there have been any similar problems with this drug? It is scary knowing that something "so innocent" in intent can cause such strange sleep problems. Any information would be appreciated.

Thanks! Tammy

Kaley wrote to us saying......

Hello, I have just read your articles on Melatonin as a natural sleep remedy in ADHD people. In reply to Tammy my son is 5 and suffers from both ADHD and ODD. Recently, he was prescribed Melatonin for sleep problems related to ADHD medication, my son was fine for the first say 30 minits after taking it and then he had terrible side effects from it. These ranged from as you described terrible nightmares, violence he was hallucinating visualy and audibly, he couldnt get to sleep and was like a child posessed. He ended up keeping my husband and I awake till around 6.30 am the following day when the Melatonin finaly wore off. This maybe wouldn't have been so bad but he then had to take the day off of school as he was to tired to go.

Yours sincerly, Kaley

We wrote to ask Kaley if we could post this here and she wrote back with the following:

"Dear Simon, I've just received your email and yes of course by all means use my email. I just hope it helps prevent someone else going through what my husband and I did when we tried it. My husband and I have noticed to that there's a very short supply of help and advice for parents of A.D.H.D children and almost none for O.D.D. We tried approaching social services for help with our son but couldn't get any. So if anyone has any tips on behaviour management or info on O.D.D., please could you have them email me at my email address. You can also print this on your page if you think it would help us gain advice. Thank you for your help your web site has been very helpful to us.

Sincerly Kaley

Serious and Deadly Side-Effects From Herbal Products

This comes from University of Michigan

"There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even lethal side effects from herbal products. In addition, some so-called natural remedies were found to contain standard prescription medication. Of specific concern are studies suggesting that up to 30% of herbal patent remedies imported from China having been laced with potent pharmaceuticals such as phenacetin and steroids. Most problems reported occur in herbal remedies imported from Asia, with one study reporting a significant percentage of such remedies containing toxic metals. The following warnings are of particular importance for people with attention-deficit disorders.

  • Melatonin. High doses of melatonin have been associated with an increased risk for seizures in children with existing neurologic disorders.
  • Gingko. The risk for side effects from gingko appear to be low, but there is an increased risk for bleeding and interaction with anti-clotting medications at high doses.
  • Ginseng. There have been contaminated forms of imported ginseng.

It also has been associated with a hypoglycemia and a higher risk for bleeding. In addition, a great number of ginseng products have been found to contain little or no ginseng."

If you live in the UK, Melatonin is only available on prescription. See our News article on Concerta by clicking here for more details on how to get hold of Melatonin.

Ed. Note:Please remember, we do not endorse any treatments and strongly advise you to check with your doctor before using, stopping or changing any treatment


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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, January 4). Natural Alternatives: Melatonin for Treating ADHD Sleep Problems, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 12 from

Last Updated: February 12, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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