Autism Spectrum Disorders is characterized as a neurodevelopmental disorder that are a group of conditions with onset in the developmental period that produces impairments in the area of social communication, reciprocal social action as well as repetitive and stereotyped behaviors and interest.
It is a spectrum meaning it varies from person to person with varying co-disorders including sleep.
Studies show that children with sleep disorders experience insomnia and sleep issues at a higher rate than children without autism.
Interviewed parents reported showed that 53% of children with ASD have difficulty sleeping including difficulty falling asleep(23),frequent awakening(19) and early morning wakening (11). Sleep disturbance included bedtime resistance, insomnia, breathing issues while sleeping, morning arising issues and daytime sleepiness. There is also evidence that children with autism spectrum disorder are reported to experience high levels of Parasomnias, defined as a group of sleep disorders involving unwanted events displayed by complexed behaviors during sleep. This includes:
- Bed Wetting
- Sleep Hallucination
- Night Terrors
- Sleep Walking
Sleep disturbance fin autism falls into one of the following categories:
- difficulty falling asleep
- night walking
- early walking
- night terrors
The Impact of Sleep
Lack of sleep for an autistic child and adult presents additional challenges. Studies show the lack of sleep can increase issues with repetitive behaviors, fatigued parents, increase anxiety and depression and increase cognitive issues. this decreases the quality of life for the person during daytime. In school, the child may have difficulty staying awake, regulating emotions and an increase in hyperactivity, aggression and poor appetite. As children become adults, it is possible for the issue of sleeping to increase. there is evidence that autistic adults continue to have issues with insomnia and sleepwalking.
- Psychiatric comorbidities including anxiety, behavior problems, and hyperactivity
- Genetic Mutations including serotonin and melatonin which has been described as an important factor in the sleep-wake cycle. Studies have found abnormal melatonin in people with ASD.
Tips for Improving Sleep
- Create a regular bedtime routine including using a visual cue which will help the child or adult prepare for bed.
- Make sure the bedroom is comfortable including using a dim light in the bedroom and blackout blinds. Also ensure the temperature in the room is comfortable
- Quiet activities. Plan for quiet play before bed which allows the person to relax. This can include reading, puzzles, or a craft activity.
- Denani, P., & Hegde, A.(2015). Autism and Sleep Disorders. Journal of Pediatric Neurosciences 10(4)
- The link between autism and sleep issues (VeryWell)
- Wide Awake: Why children with autism struggle with sleep (Spectrum)