Trouble Sleeping Associated With Behavioural Problems in Children With Autism

COLUMBIA, Mo -- February 16, 2016 -- Researchers have found associations between trouble sleeping and behavioural problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The findings are published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“Past research has found that children with ASD often have trouble sleeping at night,” said Micah Mazurek, MD, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri. “Many children with ASD also struggle with regulating their behaviour during the day. Research on children without ASD has found that lack of sleep can contribute to these behavioural problems.”

“In this study, we were specifically interested in whether sleep is related to challenging behaviour in children with ASD,” he said.

To study the connection between sleep and behavioural problems, the researchers surveyed parents of 81 children with ASD. They examined common sleep problems including trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and other specific sleep issues.

They then examined whether these problems were related to common behavioural problems in children with ASD, including aggression, irritability, inattention, and hyperactivity.

Results showed that sleep difficulties were highly related to daytime behavioural problems. Children who weren't sleeping well had greater problems with aggression, irritability, and paying attention during the day. They found that children who awakened frequently throughout the night had the most trouble regulating their behaviour.

The research on sleep and behaviour in children with ASD is ongoing, and future research will examine what may be causing these difficulties and which treatments may work best. In the meantime, they encourage parents to talk to their doctors about their children’s sleep.

“If parents are noticing that their children are having behavioural problems, it may be helpful to make sure they are sleeping well at night,” said Dr. Mazurek. “For all children with ASD, it is important that parents and professionals routinely screen for sleep problems. Addressing these issues will help children be at their best during the day.”

SOURCE: University of Missouri-Columbia
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