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Understanding Autism

IAN: Interactive Autism Network - Kennedy Krieger Institute

Sleep Issues

Date First Published: April 2, 2007
Date Last Updated: October 30, 2008

Many individuals with an ASD have difficulty achieving normal sleep patterns.1,2 Whether they have trouble getting to sleep, wake numerous times during the night, or awaken very early and stay awake the rest of the day, sufficient sleep is definitely lacking. REM sleep patterns have been shown to be disturbed,3 and some individuals on the spectrum may even be suffering from an actual sleep disorder.4

This can be a problem for the person with an ASD, as they have plenty to handle already without adding sleep deprivation to the list. Clearly, their unusual sleep pattern may also be a problem for family members whose own rest is disrupted. This is particularly true of parents of young children. Coping with their child with an ASD may be nearly impossible if parents are not only stressed, but constantly suffering from broken sleep.

This issue often overlaps with that of "rituals." (See Insistence on Sameness.) Bedtime routines can become exhausting. For example, children may demand a certain order of pre-bedtime events, that a parent lie down or stay in the room with them, that the entire household go to bed at the same time, or that all the blinds and curtains in the bedroom be positioned in a specific way. Non-compliance by family members can result in tantrums and an even more disrupted bedtime that impacts everyone in the household's sleep and ability to cope the next day.5

Sleep Issues - References

  • Williams, G. P., Sears, L. L., & Allard, A. (2004). Sleep problems in children with autism. Journal of Sleep Research, 13, 265-268. Abstract
  • Liu, X., Hubbard, J., Fabes, R. A., & Adam, J. B. (2006). Sleep disturbances and correlates of children with autism spectrum disorders. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, In Press - published on-line 9/26/06. Abstract
  • Daoust, A., Limoges, E., Bolduc, C., Mottron, L., & Godbout, R. (2004). EEG spectral analysis of wakefulness and REM sleep in high functioning autistic spectrum disorders. Clinical Neurophysiology, 115, 1368-1373. Abstract
  • Thirumalai, S.S., Shubin, R. A., & Robinson, R. (2002). Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder in children with autism. Journal of Child Neurology, 17(3), 173-178. Abstract
  • Patzold, L. M., Richdale, A. L., & Tonge, B. J. (1998). An investigation into sleep characteristics of children with autism and Asperger's disorder. Journal of Paediatric Child Health, 34, 528-533. Abstract





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