Health Studies 

Help for Sleep Problems in Autistic Boys

sleeping boyApproximately one child in 88 is on the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism Spectrum Disorder is distinguished by difficulties in the areas of socialization and communication, as well as repetitive behaviors. Many children with autism experience difficulty falling asleep and sleeping through the night. 

A team of researchers from the University of Missouri recently completed a study which shows that bedroom access to television, computers, or video games is associated with less sleep in boys on the spectrum. The study was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

Christopher Engelhardt, a post-doctoral research fellow at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders and the MU School of Health Professions, was part of the team that conducted the research.

Dr. Engelhardt writes:

Previous research has shown that bedroom access to screen-based media is associated with less time spent sleeping in the general population,. We found that this relationship is stronger among boys with autism.

Engelhardt and his colleagues looked at media use and sleep among boys with ASD, and compared them to boys with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as well as typically developing boys. They surveyed parents about the hours of media use each day, bedroom access to media, and the typical hours of nightly sleep.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found a much higher correlation between bedroom access to a television or computer and less sleep among boys on the spectrum, than in the other boys. They also determined that average video-game exposure correlated with less time spent sleeping among boys with ASD. Engelhardt writes:

Even though our findings are preliminary, parents should be aware that media use may have an effect on sleep, especially for children with autism. If children are having sleep problems, parents might consider monitoring and possibly limiting their children’s media use, especially around bedtime.

Our current results were cross-sectional, meaning that we are not able to determine whether pre-bedtime media exposure causes some children with autism to sleep less. However, the relationship between bedroom media access and sleep was particularly large among boys with autism, suggesting that we should continue to carefully research this possibility.

Engelhardt noted that some media use may be of benefit to autistic children, particularly in terms of teaching and reinforcing skills and behaviors. He also stressed the importance of further research to understand how media use interferes with sleep.



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