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Classical conditioning for preserving the effects of short melatonin treatment in children with delayed sleep: a pilot study

Authors van Maanen A, Meijer AM, Smits MG, Oort FJ

Received 1 December 2016

Accepted for publication 18 January 2017

Published 9 March 2017 Volume 2017:9 Pages 67—79


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Steven A Shea

Annette van Maanen,1 Anne Marie Meijer,1 Marcel G Smits,2 Frans J Oort1

1Research Institute Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 2Centre for Sleep-Wake Disorders and Chronobiology, Hospital Gelderse Vallei, Ede, the Netherlands

Abstract: Melatonin treatment is effective in treating sleep onset problems in children with delayed melatonin onset, but effects usually disappear when treatment is discontinued. In this pilot study, we investigated whether classical conditioning might help in preserving treatment effects of melatonin in children with sleep onset problems, with and without comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism. After a baseline week, 16 children (mean age: 9.92 years, 31% ADHD/autism) received melatonin treatment for 3 weeks and then gradually discontinued the treatment. Classical conditioning was applied by having children drink organic lemonade while taking melatonin and by using a dim red light lamp that was turned on when children went to bed. Results were compared with a group of 41 children (mean age: 9.43 years, 34% ADHD/autism) who received melatonin without classical conditioning. Melatonin treatment was effective in advancing dim light melatonin onset and reducing sleep onset problems, and positive effects were found on health and behavior problems. After stopping melatonin, sleep returned to baseline levels. We found that for children without comorbidity in the experimental group, sleep latency and sleep start delayed less in the stop week, which suggests an effect of classical conditioning. However, classical conditioning seems counterproductive in children with ADHD or autism. Further research is needed to establish these results and to examine other ways to preserve melatonin treatment effects, for example, by applying morning light.

Keywords: melatonin, classical conditioning, children, delayed sleep

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