Sleep Problems in children with autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a comparative study and effects on communication



For many children, bedtime is a time for winding down, preparing for a night of restorative sleep. But for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a good night’s sleep can be an elusive dream. Sleep problems are a frequent comorbidity in these neurodevelopmental conditions, impacting not just their overall well-being but also their ability to communicate effectively.


A recent study published in March 2024 sheds light on this critical connection between sleep, ASD, ADHD, and communication. Titled “Sleep Problems in children with autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a comparative study and effects on communication,” this research delves deeper into the sleep experiences of children with ASD and ADHD, comparing them to typically developing children.


Diving into the Data: Sleep Disruptions Across Conditions


The study involved 122 children aged 7-12, divided into three groups: children with ASD (without intellectual disability), children with ADHD, and a control group of typically developing children. Researchers employed questionnaires completed by parents to assess sleep patterns and communication skills in these children.


The findings revealed significant differences in sleep experiences across the groups:

  • Trouble Sleeping for All: Both the ASD and ADHD groups displayed a higher prevalence of sleep problems in general compared to the typically developing children. This highlights the fact that sleep disturbances are a common challenge for children with these neurodevelopmental conditions.
  • Unique Sleep Issues in ADHD: The study identified a specific pattern for children with ADHD. They experienced a higher frequency of sleep breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, and night sweats compared to both the ASD and control groups. These findings suggest that the nature of sleep problems can differ between ASD and ADHD.
  • The Stronger Link: Sleep and Communication in ADHD: An interesting discovery emerged when researchers analyzed the impact of sleep problems on communication. The study found that sleep disturbances had a more significant effect on communication difficulties in children with ADHD compared to those with ASD. This suggests a stronger link between sleep quality and communication skills in children with ADHD.


The Indirect Effect: Sleep’s Hidden Impact on Communication


The research employed a statistical technique called mediation analysis, which revealed a fascinating indirect effect. In both ASD and ADHD groups, sleep problems partially mediated the relationship between core symptoms of the conditions and communication skills.


Here’s how it works: Imagine a triangle. At the top is the core symptomatology of ASD or ADHD. At the bottom is communication ability. Sleep problems sit in the middle, acting as a mediator. This finding suggests that by addressing sleep issues, we can indirectly improve communication skills in children with both ASD and ADHD.


Beyond the Study: What it Means for Parents and Caregivers


This March 2024 study offers valuable insights for parents and caregivers of children with ASD and ADHD who struggle with sleep problems. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Prioritize Sleep: Given the high prevalence of sleep disturbances in these conditions, prioritizing healthy sleep habits becomes crucial.
  • Seek Help for Sleep Issues: If your child with ASD or ADHD experiences sleep problems, don’t hesitate to consult with a healthcare professional. There are effective interventions available, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which can significantly improve sleep quality.
  • Improved Sleep, Improved Communication: By addressing sleep issues, you can potentially create a positive domino effect, leading to better communication skills for your child. This can have a significant impact on their social interactions, learning abilities, and overall well-being.


Remember, a good night’s sleep is the foundation for a healthy and fulfilling life. By prioritizing sleep and seeking help for sleep disturbances, we can empower children with ASD and ADHD to thrive in all aspects of their development, including communication.


Looking Forward: This research paves the way for further exploration of the complex interplay between sleep, ASD, ADHD, and communication. Future studies could investigate the effectiveness of specific sleep interventions in improving communication skills in these populations. By delving deeper into this connection, we can develop targeted strategies to support children with ASD and ADHD on their journey towards a good night’s sleep and a brighter tomorrow.



The study mentions sleep breathing problems in ADHD. What are some of the symptoms to watch out for?

Sleep breathing problems, like sleep apnea, can disrupt sleep quality and lead to daytime sleepiness. Symptoms in children can be subtle and include snoring, witnessed pauses in breathing during sleep, restless sleep, and morning headaches. If you suspect your child with ADHD may have a sleep breathing disorder, consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.


Can medications used to treat ASD or ADHD interfere with sleep?

Some medications used to treat ASD and ADHD can have side effects that disrupt sleep patterns. These can include stimulants used for ADHD, which can cause jitteriness or difficulty falling asleep. It’s important to discuss any sleep concerns you have with your child’s doctor. They may be able to adjust medications or recommend alternative approaches.


What is it CBT-I?

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a form of psychotherapy that has been shown to be effective in improving sleep quality for adults and children. This therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to sleep problems. A healthcare professional can assess if CBT-I would be a suitable intervention for your child with ASD or ADHD.



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