Children with FASD, along with their parents and carers, know that they can often have significant difficulties with sleeping at night. Recently, researchers have found the same thing. A number of studies have found that children with FASD have significantly more difficulties sleeping than their typically developing peers. Some researchers think that these problems might stem in part from the damaging effects that prenatal exposure to alcohol has on the parts of their brains that are important for initiating and maintaining healthy sleep.

We all know what it feels like to go without a good night’s sleep. But some researchers think that sleep is especially important for a child’s healthy brain development. It is thought that the problems with sleep that children with FASD have might contribute to their difficulties with managing their behaviour during the day. Despite this, there has not been any research into whether traditional treatments for sleep problems work in children with FASD. Doctors often prescribe melatonin to treat sleep problems in children, but we do not know if this works in children with FASD.

Melatonin is a hormone that is normally released by our bodies at night around the time that we fall asleep. It is often called the “darkness hormone” because our bodies release this when it is dark. The release of melatonin is also thought to work as a signal for our internal biological clock. Our biological clock tells our bodies when it is daytime (and so time to get up and do things) and night-time (in humans, time to sleep!). This is why reducing screen time at night and getting lots of sunlight (while being sun safe of course) during the day can help our clocks work out when it is time to get to sleep.

Researchers are interested in whether we can use melatonin to help with sleep problems in children with FASD. We are currently recruiting for a trial of liquid melatonin to treat sleep problems in children with FASD or prenatal alcohol exposure (options for the assessment of FASD available) out of Gold Coast University Hospital. Families need to be able to drive to Gold Coast Uni Hospital in order to take part in the trial.

If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact Professor Sharon Dawe (s.dawe@griffith.edu.au) or Ned Chandler-Mather (ned.chandler-mather@griffithuni.edu.au).

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