My child has autism. What can I expect about her sleep?
Children with autism and autism spectrum disorders often experience sleep difficulties. These can include difficulties falling asleep, maintaining sleep and experiencing short sleep duration.
As with other disorders, the reasons for the associations between autism and sleep difficulties are likely to be complex and multiple explanations have been proposed by researchers. One possibility is that children with autism secrete lower levels of the sleepy hormone, melatonin, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep at night.
There are multiple other explanations for the associations, too – such as the possibility that central features of autism can be driving the sleep difficulties – such as stereotyped or repetitive motor movements making sleep onset more difficult. Disorders which commonly go along with autism, such as anxiety, may also be driving the link with poor sleep in certain cases.
Sleeping poorly can have negative consequences for daytime functioning in a child and can also be difficult for the entire family. Therefore, if your child is struggling to sleep well, please do raise this with your healthcare provider as there are both pharmacological and behavioral interventions which may be able to help.