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Sleep Med. 2015 Feb;16(2):270-9. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.11.006. Epub 2014 Nov 28.

Sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorder: examining the contributions of sensory over-responsivity and anxiety.

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University of Missouri, Department of Health Psychology & Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 205 Portland Street, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. Electronic address:
University of Missouri, Office of Medical Research, Biostatistics and Research Design Unit, DC018, Columbia, MO 65212, USA.



Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at high risk for sleep problems. Previous research suggests that sensory problems and anxiety may be related to the development and maintenance of sleep problems in children with ASD. However, the relationships among these co-occurring conditions have not been previously studied. The current study examined the interrelations of these symptoms in a large well-characterized sample of children and adolescents with ASD.


The current study examined the relationships among sleep problems, sensory over-responsivity, and anxiety in 1347 children enrolled in the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network. The primary measures included the Children's Sleep Habits Questionnaire, the Child Behavior Checklist, and the Short Sensory Profile.


In bivariate correlations and multivariate path analyses, anxiety was associated with all types of sleep problems (ie, bedtime resistance, sleep-onset delay, sleep duration, sleep anxiety, and night wakings; p < 0.01 to p < 0.001; small to medium effect sizes). Sensory over-responsivity (SOR) was correlated with all sleep problems in bivariate analyses (p < 0.01 to p < 0.001; small effect sizes). In multivariate path models, SOR remained significantly associated with all sleep problems except night awakenings for older children, while SOR was no longer significantly associated with bedtime resistance or sleep anxiety for younger children.


Children with ASD who have anxiety and SOR may be particularly predisposed to sleep problems. These findings suggest that some children with ASD and sleep disturbance may have difficulties with hyperarousal. Future research using physiological measures of arousal and objective measures of sleep are needed.


Anxiety; Autism; Hyperarousal; Insomnia; Sensory problems; Sleep disturbance

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