Sleep quality in autism from adolescence to old age

Published March 2020


Difficulty sleeping is a common occurrence among autistic individuals, but we know very little about sleep in autistic adults. The purpose of the study was to compare self-reported sleep quality in autistic and non-autistic people aged 15 to 80 years. Online surveys were completed by 297 autistic individuals (average age 34.36 years) and 233 non-autistic individuals (average age 33.01 years). Participants were asked questions about their sleep quality, the time it takes them to fall asleep (sleep latency), and the number of hours of sleep they usually get each night (total sleep). Using information about how long they slept and their responses to questions about their bedtime and wake time we calculated the percentage of time they spent in bed asleep (sleep efficiency [SE]). We compared these sleep measures between the autistic and non-autistic participants. We also split the participants into four age groups (15–19, 20–39, 40–59, and 60+ years) to look at any differences at specific age points. Finally, we looked to see whether autistic symptoms, having a mental health problem, being on medication, being unemployed, and/or sex (male/female) predicted sleep quality. The study found that poor sleep quality was more common for the autistic participants (63.7%) than non-autistic participants (46.4%). On average, autistic participants also had poorer sleep quality scores and it took them longer to fall asleep than non-autistic participants. Autistic participants in early adulthood (20–39) and middle age (40–59) had poorer sleep quality and took longer to fall asleep than non-autistic adults of the same age. There were no differences between autistic and non-autistic adolescents (15–19) or older adults (60+). For autistic participants, the best predictor of poor sleep quality was being female; other predictors of poor sleep quality were having a mental health problem, more autistic symptoms, and being on medication. Among non-autistic participants, the best predictor of poor sleep quality was having a mental health problem; other predictors were more autistic symptoms, being on medication, and being unemployed. These finding tell us that similar to the findings in autistic children, autistic adults are more likely to have poor sleep quality compared with non-autistic adults. Autistic females are particularly at risk for poor sleep, and autistic adults aged 20 to 59 years are more at risk for poor sleep quality.
Jovevska, S., Richdale, A.L., Lawson, L.P., Uljarević, M., Arnold, S.R.C. & Trollor, J.N. (2020). Sleep quality in autism from adolescence to old age. Autism in Adulthood, 2(2), 152-162.

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