Evaluation of Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep and Iron Status in Children With Autism

Pediatr Neurol. 2015 Oct;53(4):343-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2015.06.014. Epub 2015 Jun 26.


Objective: Recent data suggest that both disordered sleep and low serum iron occur more frequently in children with autism compared with children with typical development. Iron deficiency has been linked to specific sleep disorders. The goal of the current study was to evaluate periodic limb movements in sleep and iron status in a group of children with autism compared with typically developing children and children with nonautism developmental delay to determine if iron status correlated with polysomnographic measures of latency and continuity and periodic limb movements in sleep.

Methods: A total of 102 children (68 with autism, 18 typically developing, 16 with developmental delay) aged 2 to 7 years underwent a one-night modified polysomnography study and phlebotomy at the National Institutes of Health to measure serum markers of iron status (ferritin, iron, transferrin, percent transferrin saturation).

Results: No serum iron marker was associated with periodic limb movements of sleep or any other sleep parameter; this did not differ among the diagnostic groups. No significant differences among groups were observed on serum iron markers or most polysomnogram parameters: periodic limb movements in sleep, periodic limb movements index, wake after sleep onset, or sleep efficiency. Children in the autism group had significantly less total sleep time. Serum ferritin was uniformly low across groups.

Conclusions: This study found no evidence that serum ferritin is associated with polysomnogram measures of latency or sleep continuity or that young children with autism are at increased risk for higher periodic limb movements index compared with typically developing and developmental delay peers.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00298246 NCT00409747.

Keywords: autism; ferritin; iron; periodic limb movements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Ferritins / blood*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Ferritins
  • Iron

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00298246
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00409747