Autism Spectrum Disorder, also referred to as ASD or simply “autism,” is a neurodevelopment disorder that affects between one and two percent of the world’s population. Those with ASD are known to have trouble with communication and reciprocal social interactions. Research suggests that they also have a higher likelihood of suffering with a sleep disorder.
A study based on parental reports showed that 53 percent of children with ASD suffer with impaired sleep. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism. Problems include difficulty falling asleep, trouble waking up and various presentations of insomnia.
The child’s sleep problems have an impact on the entire family. Mothers are more likely to have high levels of stress and fathers are more likely to exhibit sleep disruption. The child’s daytime behaviors also become more challenging when their ASD causes them to suffer from lack of sleep.
Like children with ASD, adults with ASD are more likely to experience sleep disturbances than the general population.
One study conducted a meta-analysis of data from either objective data (i.e. actigraphy and polysomnography) or subjective data (i.e. sleep diaries and questionnaires). The analysis found that adults with ASD were more likely to lie awake in bed, have difficulty falling asleep and wake up in the middle of the night.
This study provided a good foundation of knowledge, but there is still a need for additional data. Future research will help the medical community better understand and treat sleep disturbances in adults with ASD.
Possible Causes and Solutions
Melatonin is a hormone our brains produce to help regulate our circadian rhythm. People with ASD may produce lower levels of melatonin, which leads to impaired sleep. Severe insomnia may also be linked with sensory hyper-reactivity to certain triggers, such as bright lights. For example, if a person with ASD avoids bright lights, it can affect their circadian rhythm.
Early and routine sleep assessments can help facilitate a lifetime of healthier sleep habits for those with ASD. If sleep impairments are detected, measures can be taken to remedy the problem, such as behavioral changes or medications.