Parenting

Why Do Children with Autism Suffer from Sleep Issues?

Why Do Children with Autism Suffer from Sleep Issues?

Sleep is something that everyone struggles with at some point during their lifetime. It may be temporary and due to stress or simply having a bad day, or it could be more significant and long term--something that may require treatment. Despite being incredibly important for our health, sleep is often the first thing that is sacrificed when we get busy or have too much on our plate. If we have sleep issues, we often overlook them, perhaps thinking that they will resolve on their own. Additionally, in our daily list of priorities, sleep rarely takes first place. This can lead to a chronic lack of sleep that can permeate many aspects of our lives. 

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is important for your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. Getting adequate sleep can ensure safety in many ways, such as preventing you from falling asleep at the wheel. In the long term, sleep can prevent chronic conditions from developing. It also impacts your social life by influencing your mood, how you think, and how you interact with other people.

Sleep helps your brain work properly by giving it time to form new pathways that help you learn and remember information. Studies have shown that it also helps with your attention, decision-making, and creativity. Additionally, sleep is important for mood regulation. Research has linked sleep deficiency to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.

Since sleep plays such a vital role in healing your blood vessels and heart, ongoing deficiency can increase your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. The physical benefits of sleep are seemingly endless. It can decrease your risk of obesity, help balance out your hormones, and affect how your body reacts to insulin. Sleep also plays a role in protecting you from other illnesses by keeping your immune system healthy.

Functioning well throughout the day is largely dependent on not only getting enough sleep, but getting good quality sleep. This impaired functioning can be dangerous for people who drive, or work in certain industries such as healthcare. It also negatively impacts student learning.

Clearly sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy life overall, but what about sleep deficiency in children, members of the population who are growing and developing rapidly? More specifically, how is sleep deficiency related to and how does it affect children with autism?

Shafali Jeste, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has studied sleep and children with autism.

Sleep deficiency and its relation to autism

A recent article discusses Jeste’s clinic at UCLA, where she sees children who have various genetic syndromes that are associated with autism. In her observations she has noticed one thing that all these children have in common: decreased sleep quality.

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, and can greatly impact a person’s quality of life. In addition to some of the negative consequences of poor sleep that we previously discussed, it can also exacerbate seizures. While there are treatments that are available to help children with autism sleep better, they must be individualized to the patient’s unique needs. There are also behavioral interventions that can focus on lifestyle changes, but again, these need to be focused on each child and what is causing his or her lack of sleep.

Read on to learn more about autism and lack of sleep.