From the Journals

High prevalence of sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorder

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Cooperation key to addressing ASD sleep problems

We can help reduce night waking and improve sleep onset within 5-15 weeks after parents have been trained. “Successful behavioral programs include bedtime fading, teaching healthy sleep practices, and increasing a child’s physical activity during the day,” Catherine Lord, PhD, wrote. Although research supports melatonin as an effective intervention for helping children fall asleep and sleep longer, the high percentage of children in the study already taking melatonin reveals its limitations. “Thus, it is recommended that families try behavioral programs before trials with melatonin,” she wrote.

But families and providers can only work together to address sleep issues if providers ask about sleep concerns, help families implement interventions, and follow up with progress. “In most cases, this help does not have to come from sleep experts, but does require dedicated time and effort using the now-growing base of evidence about effective interventions,” she concluded.

These comments are condensed from an editorial (Pediatrics. 2019 Feb 11. doi: 10.1542/peds.2018-2629) by Dr. Lord , a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California Los Angeles. Dr. Lord reports royalties from diagnostic instruments used in this study that were donated to a not-for-profit agency. She is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.



Children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or another developmental delay or disorder that includes autistic characteristics are twice as likely to have sleeping problems, a multisite case-control study has found.

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The findings match up with previous similar studies, but this study is among the largest to measure sleeping problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with two control groups.

The higher reported occurrence of sleep problems in children with ASD may be due to multiple contributing factors, including physiologic differences, sleep disorders, developmental comorbidities, medical comorbidities causing sleep disruption, communication impairments, and behavioral disturbances,” Ann M. Reynolds, MD, of the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado, both in Aurora, and her associates reported in Pediatrics.

Dr. Ann Reynolds of the University of Colorado

Dr. Ann Reynolds

“Children with ASD are more likely to have anxiety, which may predispose them to sleep problems,” the authors added.

The study evaluated sleep habits and problems in 1,987 children aged 2-5 years. The study population included 522 children with ASD, 228 children with other developmental delays and disorders that have ASD characteristics, 534 children with other developmental delays and disorders, and 703 children from the general population.

Parents completed the Children Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ), a 33-item assessment tool typically used with a total score cutoff of 41 and above for identification of children with sleep disorders. The researchers also used a second, more conservative cutoff of 48 – the cutoff for the highest quartile in the general population group – to avoid overidentification with the lower cutoff.


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