Children with Autism, Developmental Delays More than Twice as Likely to Have Sleep Problems

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No matter your age, a good night’s sleep is an important part of staying healthy. Sleep problems can impact physical health and quality of life, and impaired sleep habits have been associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and immune dysfunction. Sleep problems are observed more frequently in children with autism and developmental delays, but previous studies haven’t looked at large groups of patients and compared to the general population, where sleep problems are still common.

In a new study published on February 11 in the journal Pediatrics, Susan E. Levy, MD, MPH, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and Director of the Autism Integrated Care Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and other researchers had parents of 2- to 5-year-old children complete the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire. The multisite case-control study looked at 522 children with autism spectrum disorder, 228 children with other developmental delays and disorders with characteristics of autism, 534 children with other developmental delays with no autism characteristics, and 703 children who were considered neurotypical.

The study team found that the proportion of children with sleep problems was significantly higher in children in the autism group compared with the developmental delays and no autism group and neurotypical group. Nearly half of children with autism experienced sleep problems, a rate that was more than twice as common as neurotypical children of the same age.

Levy and her colleagues said that screening for sleep problems in young children can help determine whether appropriate interventions, such as prescribing melatonin, are warranted.

This study was covered on WebMD and MedPageToday.