A review of: GOODLIN-JONES, B., TANG, K., LIU, J., ANDERS, T. (2008). Sleep Patterns in Preschool-Age Children With Autism, Developmental Delay, and Typical Development. . Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 47 (8), 932-940.
Parents of children with autism usually report that their children experience significant sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep. Yet, little research has been conducted on the specific type of sleep difficulties prevalent among children with autism. The authors of this paper first discussed the need to understand the nature of the sleep problems within this population. Research on sleep difficulties among children with other developmental disabilities indicate significant variability between the different disorders. For example, children with Prader-Willi syndrome have extended nighttime sleep and daytime sleepiness, while children with Rett syndrome have difficulty staying asleep during the night and frequent daytime napping. Therefore, in order to examine the type of sleep problems experienced by children with autism the authors examined the night and daytime sleep patterns of 68 pre-school children with autism, 57 children with non-autistic developmental delays, and 69 typically developing kids.
The mean bedtime for the entire group was 9:00pm and the children took 38 additional minutes to fall asleep. The average waking time was 7:10am. Thus, the average time in bed was 10 hours, with 9:20 hours of actual sleep.
No sex differences were noted.
Autism findings: Children with autism slept significantly less during a 24 hours cycle than children with other developmental disabilities and typically developing kids. In regards to awakening events during the night, typically developing children had more awakenings than children with autism, but the awakenings episodes of children with autism were significantly longer. This suggests that while children with autism do not seem to have difficulty staying asleep, they do experience difficulty falling asleep after sleep interruptions.
In regards to parental reports about their children sleep patterns, parents of children with autism reported significantly more sleep difficulties than parents of typically developing kids but not significantly more than those reported by parents of children with other developmental problems. However, parents of children with autism reported significantly more personal stress than parents in the two comparison groups.
I am an adult autistic and I still can't fall back to sleep after being awakened. My brain immediately clicks into 'awake' mode and it is impossible to relax and fall back to sleep no matter how much I may want to. In fact, staying in bed causes anxiety. As an adult I have learned to occupy myself in acceptable ways that do not wake others, and I can do the nap thing during the day but this is not a good thing for me. It shakes my routine and is upsetting for me.