Causes of Insomnia in Children with Autism

Autism consists of persistent neurodevelopmental disorders that present dysfunctions in communication and social interaction. Children with autism often have sleep disorders that significantly affect social interaction, daily life, and good academic development.

In general, they tend to suffer from insomnia, which is perceived as a difficulty in falling asleep. Unlike people without neurological conditions, kids within the spectrum are about 11 minutes longer than the population getting to sleep.

These kids usually wake up at night, and many of them get to suffer from sleep apnea. They only spend 15% of their sleep time in the REM phase (rapid eye movement), which is fundamental for learning and memory. But what are the causes of insomnia in them? Discover them in this article.

Causes of insomnia in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

The incidence of insomnia in children with autism spectrum disorder is quite high, due to the confluence of other conditions that interrupt the normal sleep cycle such as gastrointestinal problems, attention deficit, hyperactivity, anxiety.

On the other hand, most of them are treated with stimulant medications. Other findings suggest that it may be caused by genetic mutations that govern sleep cycles and alter melatonin levels, a condition that doubly affects people within the spectrum.

Most of them are especially susceptible to sleep problems; consequently, they have nocturnal awakenings that impact on the processes of focus and attention, memory, behavior and moods.

Many factors affect insomnia, so researchers are increasingly studying this phenomenon. Recent studies have developed a typology of the possible causes.

Intrinsic causes

Disorders in the development and organization of the central nervous system: researchers report that an abnormality in the maturity and development of the central nervous system has a significant impact on the quality of sleep and its duration, causing problems in sleeping or parasomnia.

Irregular production of melatonin: deficiency of this hormone can cause insomnia as well as night awakenings and complications to sleep.

Hyperactivation and alterations of sensory integration: cognitive or physiological hyperactivity cause insomnia. 

In fact, it has been observed that people with autism and insomnia problems have greater cognitive and sympathetic nervous system activity, as well as an increase in heart rate, body temperature and elevated levels of noradrenaline. The anguish resulting from this condition can cause insomnia.

Extrinsic causes

Among the external causes are usually mentioned:

Stress due to changes in the environment: changes in the sleep routine, stimuli, the need to comply with certain rules, or unusual practices promote insomnia.

Psychological stress: caused by mental as well as physical pressures, changes in moods lead to the onset of insomnia.

Physical stress: the various pathologies or any condition suffered by the kid can affect the quality of sleep.

As mentioned in previous sections, the child with ASD is more susceptible to being affected by internal and external factors which, when dealing with insomnia, are many causes that intervene simultaneously in the loss of sleep.

Insomnia impacts and harms all people of any condition, but in the case of the autism spectrum, lack of rest can alter the features; for example, it can result in greater difficulty in social interaction with other children.

In summary, those who have low quality sleep generally show severe or violent repetitive behavior and greater difficulties in establishing friendships with other people.

Some children with autism may have insomnia problems. See a specialist!


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