Sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances in autism spectrum disorder in children

Dev Period Med. Apr-Jun 2015;19(2):157-61.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental disorder with a prevalence of 1 in 68 children, commonly presents with comorbid conditions which include sleep disorders. Sleep disorders reported in ASD include, among others, increased bedtime resistance, insomnia, parasomnia, sleep disordered breathing, morning rise problems, and daytime sleepiness. Polysomnography studies show that children with ASD have altered sleep architecture including shorter total sleep time and longer sleep latency than typically developing peers. Sleep-related problems have been shown to affect overall autism scores, social skills decits, stereotypic behavior, and cognitive performance. Additionally, problematic sleep in children with ASD has been associated with higher levels of parental stress. Underlying causes specically related to sleep disorders are not fully known. Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are commonly associated with sleep problems in these patients. Children with ASD and GI symptoms have been found to have a higher prevalence of sleep disturbances compared with typically developing peers who do not have GI symptoms. Treatment approaches to children with sleep disorders are varied and range from lifestyle modications and behavioral interventions to drug therapies and surgical interventions. Physicians should take into account GI disorders as possible underlying causes of sleep-related problems in children with ASD. Therapeutic interventions should begin with less invasive methods before progressing to more invasive options such as pharmacotherapy and should be based on medical indications in order to provide effective care while minimizing potential adverse health effects. Evidence-based studies concerning GI and sleep disorders in children with ASD are limited and further studies are warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy*
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy*