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Sleep Disorders in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, and Management

Abstract

Sleep problems are a common complaint in children/adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Correctly diagnosing and treating sleep problems in individuals with ASD is key, as they can add to the psychosocial burden of the disorder and exacerbate associated symptoms, such as inattention or irritability. Here, we provide an overview of the epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of sleep problems/disorders in children and adolescents with ASD. This narrative review is mainly informed by a systematic search in PubMed and PsycInfo (last search: 10 October 2019) of available pertinent meta-analyses. We also searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published after the search date of available meta-analyses. As for the epidemiology of sleep disorders in ASD, recent meta-analytic evidence shows a pooled prevalence of 13% (95% confidence interval [CI] 9–17) in the ASD population, compared with 3.7% in the general population. In terms of diagnosis of sleep disorders, it should be based on standardized criteria [e.g., the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or third edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD)]; clinicians should bear in mind that the communication difficulties presented by individuals with ASD may make the diagnostic process more challenging. Regarding the treatment, a meta-analysis of behavioral interventions, including only three RCTs, found significant effects in terms of increase in total sleep time (24.41 min, 95% CI 5.71–43.11, P = 0.01), decrease in sleep-onset latency (− 18.31 min, 95% CI − 30.84 to − 5.77, P = 0.004), and a significant effect on sleep efficiency (5.59, 95% CI 0.87–10.31, P = 0.02), albeit the risk of bias of the included studies was rated “high” in relation to issues with the blinding. The bulk of the evidence for the pharmacological treatment is for melatonin, with a meta-analysis of five double-blind RCTs showing a large effect size, favoring melatonin, in sleep duration (44 min compared with placebo, Hedge’s g 1.07 [95% CI 0.49–1.65]) and sleep-onset latency (39 min compared with placebo, Hedge’s g − 2.46 [95% CI − 1.96 to − 2.98]). We conclude that additional RCTs are desperately needed to support the management of sleep disorders in ASD with an evidence-based, precision medicine approach.

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Correspondence to Samuele Cortese.

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Samuele Cortese declares reimbursement for travel and accommodation expenses from the Association for Child and Adolescent Central Health (ACAMH) in relation to lectures delivered for ACAMH, Canadian AADHD Alliance Resource (CADDRA), British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP), and from Healthcare Convention for educational activity on ADHD. Fang Wang has nothing to disclose. Marco Angriman has nothing to disclose. Gabriele Masi has served on the advisory boards of Eli Lilly and Company, Shire, and Angelini. He has furthermore received research grants from Eli Lilly, Shire, and Lundbeck, and has been a speaker for Eli Lilly, Shire, Lundbeck, FB Health, and Otsuka. Oliviero Bruni has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony for both Angelini and Farmaceutici S.p.A.

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Cortese, S., Wang, F., Angriman, M. et al. Sleep Disorders in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, and Management. CNS Drugs 34, 415–423 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40263-020-00710-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40263-020-00710-y