There has previously been a link between autism and having disrupted sleep patterns, however until now evidence and research on the topic has often been compromised and therefore unreliable.
In a new study published on September 2013, researchers accumulated their evidence differently by basing their findings on long term data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and children (ALSPAC). This study tracked the health and development of more than 14,000 children born in 1991-2 in South West England.
Results from the ALSPAC came from parents reporting on their children’s sleeping patterns when the kids were various ages. They noted when their children usually went to bed and woke up and how much they slept during the day. Research was also based on information from questionnaires on social and communication skills, and on intelligence.
The final analysis of this new study was based on 39 children with autism spectrum disorder from the group, and 7043 children without. From 30 months of age onwards, children with autism were found to sleep less than children without autism. Up until the children were 11 years old, autistic children slept up to 43 minutes less than the others. The gap in total sleep decreased after this age, but autistic teenagers still slept around 20 fewer minutes each day than their peers without autism. Influential factors were taken into account and yet these differences in sleep time still remained.
From the age of 30 months onwards, children with autism were found to be significantly more likely to wake three or more times a night compared to their peers without autism. Children with autism also tended to have later bedtimes and wake up earlier.
Increasing amounts of research suggest that this disturbance in sleep patterns in autistic children may be explained by impaired production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Although it is not certain exactly what the impact is of this shortened sleep pattern in autistic children, other researchers have suggested that sleep loss may have an impact on neuronal development.