As autism research continues to progress and scientists unearth more information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the correlation between unhealthy sleeping patterns and ASD grows even more robust. A recent article on Spectrum News described the sleep problems that affect many with autism and the associated consequences according to a study by S.E. Goldman, Ph.D. published in “Developmental Neuropsychology.” “Between 44 and 86 percent of children with autism have a serious problem with sleep,” the article notes. “By comparison, between 10 and 16 percent of children in the general population have difficulty sleeping.”
Researchers have been making some strides in figuring out what exactly causes sleep disruption in people with autism. One theory described in the article is that mutations associated with autism may also be responsible for disrupting the body’s natural clock, known as the circadian clock. There are several possible theories that tie problems with the body’s circadian clock to autism.
One is that people with autism may lack melatonin, notes another Spectrum News article about a new melatonin drug. Melatonin is a hormone that can be purchased over the counter to help alleviate sleep problems. In November, a group of researchers led by Robert Findling, M.D. of Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute presented the results of their clinical trial testing the efficacy of a new slow-release melatonin pill for children called PedPRM. PedPRM helped 38 of the 56 children with autism who received it fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
“Sleep disturbance impacts cognition, it impacts mood, and it impacts behavior,” says Ruth O’Hara, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University in a “deep dive” article about autism and insomnia on the Spectrum News site. As the article notes, those same domains are also affected by autism. Researchers hope that improving sleep may also improve symptoms in those areas. Children with autism and their parents also hope for solutions to the sleep problems that create obstacles to a good night’s sleep.