June 2, 2023

According to Dr. Cynthia Johnson, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Autism Center and professor of pediatrics, about 80 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have insomnia or sleep disturbances. This can negatively affect the quality of their lives and the lives of their families.


Johnson stated that autism spectrum disorder is a permanent disorder of the nervous system caused by genetic, metabolic or other biological factors.

According to the World Health Organization, one in every 160 children worldwide has an autism spectrum disorder.

The director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Autism Center explained that insomnia is a significantly more common problem in children with autism than in the general population, and it also lasts longer and can last into adolescence and adulthood if left untreated.

risk factors

Dr. Johnson noted that behavioral traits such as rigidity, insistence on uniformity, stereotyped behavior (resistance to change), poor communication, anxiety, and hyperactivity are among several factors that may contribute to an increased risk of insomnia in children with autism.

Possible negative impact of biological risk factors; For example, increased arousal, differences in brain development, changes in melatonin secretion, or mutations in genes that affect circadian rhythms.

In addition, clinical factors such as untreated gastrointestinal problems and drug side effects can also exacerbate the complications of sleep disorders.

Negative Effects

On the impact of insomnia or sleep disturbances on children, Dr. Johnson pointed out that sleep plays a vital role in the growth, development and quality of life of children.

Studies have shown that insufficient quality deep sleep can have a negative impact on attention and behavior during the day, as well as on the process of regulation and control of emotions. Insomnia can also affect the health of the heart, blood vessels, metabolism and immune system in children.

The professor of pediatrics added that the negative effects are not just limited to the child; This extends to the family as well, as a child’s inability to sleep affects the lifestyle of family members, especially parents, who will be stressed in the long run as they dedicate a lot of their time to developing plans and strategies that can help their children. children sleep well.

different forms

Dr. Johnson noted that the patterns of sleep disturbances in children with autism differ from one child to another. Sleep problems can be intermittent, recurrent, or persistent and can take many forms. For example, the child may resist falling asleep at certain times, insist on longer pre-bedtime activities, may have difficulty falling or staying asleep, or the child may wake up early.

According to the director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Autism Center, interventions or treatments also differ depending on the type or form of sleep disturbance and the nature of each child. She explained, “Because every child responds differently to treatment strategies, parents should consult a medical expert or specialist in pediatric sleep disorders and behavioral interventions. The goal is to solve the problem collaboratively and methodically by exploring the day and night routines of the child and family, trying different preventive strategies and building skills until the best solution is found.”

Treatment methods

Dr. Johnson said treatment approaches continue to evolve and new treatments have been found over the past decade and a half. Behavior-based treatment approaches include changing the environment, improving the ability to control stimuli, developing skills, and using reinforcement principles. In addition, the short-term use of drugs such as melatonin supplements can be considered as a treatment strategy.

In closing, the professor of pediatrics emphasized that the good news is that many of the research projects in which she herself has been involved show that behavioral strategies can go a long way in reducing insomnia, and the family of a child with an autism spectrum disorder can successfully implement many of them. . strategies.

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