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Young people with autism and ADHD more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation, study reveals

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Children with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to suffer from sleep problems, a major study has revealed.

The research, published in medical journal Sleep Health, is among the first to explore how sleep-related problems can affect cognitive performance in young neurodivergent people.

To carry out the study, the authors used a sample of 735 children between the age of eight and 12. Of these, 323 children did not have any diagnosed condition, while 177 were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and 235 were diagnosed with ADHD.

The participants’ parents were asked to undertake the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ) – a standard measure of sleep among young people. Generally, a higher score indicates poorer sleep quality.

According to the paper, children with ASD or ADHD scored higher on almost all but one of the questions (sleep-disordered breathing), suggesting that neurodivergent children are more likely to suffer from sleep-related problems compared to the general age group.

Sleep disturbances are known to significantly impact cognition and increase the risk of behavioural problems – a trait common among children with conditions such as ASD and ADHD.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers said targeting sleep problems among neurodivergent children may help mitigate the impact of sleep dysfunction on behaviour.

“We were able to demonstrate strong links between poor sleep and executive dysfunction in children with typical development, ASD, and ADHD, and demonstrate that co-occurring symptoms of anxiety, inattention, and hyperactivity or impulsivity appear to account for the associations between sleep and executive function among children with ASD,” they said.

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.