Melatonin improves sleep in children with epilepsy: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study

Sleep Med. 2015 May;16(5):637-44. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2015.01.005. Epub 2015 Jan 21.


Objective: Insomnia, especially maintenance insomnia, is widely prevalent in epilepsy. Although melatonin is commonly used, limited data address its efficacy. We performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study to identify the effects of melatonin on sleep and seizure control in children with epilepsy.

Methods: Eleven prepubertal, developmentally normal children aged 6-11 years with epilepsy were randomized by a software algorithm to receive placebo or a 9-mg sustained release (SR) melatonin formulation for four weeks, followed by a one-week washout and a four-week crossover condition. The pharmacy performed blinding; patients, parents, and study staff other than a statistician were blinded. The primary outcomes were sleep onset latency and wakefulness after sleep onset (WASO) measured on polysomnography. The secondary outcomes included seizure frequency, epileptiform spike density per hour of sleep on electroencephalogram (EEG), and reaction time (RT) measures on psychomotor vigilance task (PVT). Statistical tests appropriate for crossover designs were used for the analysis.

Results: Data were analyzed from 10 subjects who completed the study. Melatonin decreased sleep latency (mean difference, MD, of 11.4 min and p = 0.02) and WASO (MD of 22 min and p = 0.04) as compared to placebo. No worsening of spike density or seizure frequency was seen. Additionally, slow-wave sleep duration and rapid eye movement (REM) latency were increased with melatonin and REM sleep duration was decreased. These changes were statistically significant. Worsening of headache was noted in one subject with migraine on melatonin.

Conclusion: SR melatonin resulted in statistically significant decreases in sleep latency and WASO. No clear effects on seizures were observed, but the study was too small to allow any conclusions to be drawn in this regard.

Keywords: EEG spikes; Natural supplement; Seizure frequency; Sleep architecture; Sleep latency; WASO.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electroencephalography / drug effects
  • Epilepsy / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / administration & dosage
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / administration & dosage
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use*
  • Polysomnography
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / complications
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / etiology*


  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Melatonin