Kids with autism may sleep less each night due to disturbed sleep than children without the condition, according to a new study.
Researchers from the U.K. and Canada found that starting at around age 2 until 11, kids with autism tended to sleep 17 to 43 fewer minutes each night than their peers without autism. Researchers said the decreased sleep was due to periods of wakefulness during the night.
While the discrepancy in sleep shrank when kids reached their teens, researchers found that teens with autism did still tend to get about 20 fewer minutes each night than those without the condition.
The study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, is based on data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which includes more than 14,000 children born in southwest England between 1991 and 1992. For this particular study, researchers used data from 7,043 children without autism and 39 children with autism (these study participants had complete data available to researchers).
Parents were quizzed about their child's sleep habits when they were 6, 18, 30, 42, 69, 115 and 140 months old (or from 6 months to 11 years old), and were asked questions about what time their kids went to bed, woke up and slept during the day.
While the study only showed an association, researchers noted that the findings do suggest there is some sort of "shared neuropathological basis" between autism and biological clock disturbances.
"There are increasing biochemical and genetic data to support the existence of fundamental disturbances in circadian melatonin production in some children with autism, which may partly explain these findings," they wrote in the study. "Children with ASD are reported to have reduced levels of circulating melatonin and disrupted circadian rhythms, and links have been identified between genes involved in melatonin synthesis and ASD, which could help explain the disturbed sleep patterns observed in children with ASD."