A new study examined sleep behaviors and sleep quality in children with autism spectrum disorder. The results were published Dec. 1 in the journal Sleep.
The study involved 59 children with ASD. They were between 4 and 10 years of age. They were compared with 40 typically developing children.
Parents completed the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire. They also completed a sleep diary for their child each morning for 17 days.
Sleep was monitored for 10 nights by actigraphy. The actigraph was hidden in a pocket in the upper sleeve of a snug-fitting pajama top.
Results show that the average bedtime on weekdays was around 8:30 p.m. for children in both groups. But children with ASD had an average wake time of 6:27 a.m. This was 38 minutes earlier than the other children’s wake time.
About 58 percent of parents of a child with ASD had concerns about their child’s sleep. Less than 13 percent of other parents had similar concerns.
Thirty-seven percent of children with ASD were taking medication to aid sleep. Melatonin was the most common sleep aid. None of the other children were taking a medication for sleep.
Children with ASD had more parent-reported sleep anxiety. They were more often afraid of being in the dark, being alone and sleeping away from home.
A few sleep disorders also were reported more often by parents of children with ASD. These were sleep terrors, bedwetting and bruxism.
There was no difference between the groups in parent reports of bedtime resistance or sleep disordered breathing. Parents in both groups reported that their children are sleepy during the day.
Actigraphic data showed that sleep disturbances were common in both groups. An estimated 67 percent of children with ASD and 46 percent of other children had disturbed sleep.
It took children with ASD an average of 34 minutes to fall asleep; the other children fell asleep in about 22 minutes. Thirty percent of children with ASD had behavioral insomnia of childhood.
The authors concluded that all children should be screened for sleep problems during routine visits to the doctor. They also wrote that parents should be educated on strategies to promote strong sleep behaviors.
Earlier this year the Sleep Education Blog reported that melatonin supplements may be helpful for children with autism.