The relationship between sleep and behavior in autism spectrum disorder (ASD): a review

J Neurodev Disord. 2014;6(1):44. doi: 10.1186/1866-1955-6-44. Epub 2014 Dec 11.


Although there is evidence that significant sleep problems are common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and that poor sleep exacerbates problematic daytime behavior, such relationships have received very little attention in both research and clinical practice. Treatment guidelines to help manage challenging behaviors in ASD fail to mention sleep at all, or they present a very limited account. Moreover, limited attention is given to children with low-functioning autism, those individuals who often experience the most severe sleep disruption and behavioral problems. This paper describes the nature of sleep difficulties in ASD and highlights the complexities of sleep disruption in individuals with low-functioning autism. It is proposed that profiling ASD children based on the nature of their sleep disruption might help to understand symptom and behavioral profiles (or vice versa) and therefore lead to better-targeted interventions. This paper concludes with a discussion of the limitations of current knowledge and proposes areas that are important for future research. Treating disordered sleep in ASD has great potential to improve daytime behavior and family functioning in this vulnerable population.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Low-functioning autism; Sleep difficulties in ASD; Treating sleep in ASD.

Publication types

  • Review