Sleep disturbances are associated with specific sensory sensitivities in children with autism. Academic Article uri icon


  • Background Sensory abnormalities and sleep disturbances are highly prevalent in children with autism, but the potential relationship between these two domains has rarely been explored. Understanding such relationships is important for identifying children with autism who exhibit more homogeneous symptoms. Methods Here, we examined this relationship using the Caregiver Sensory Profile and the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire, which were completed by parents of 69 children with autism and 62 age-matched controls. Results In line with previous studies, children with autism exhibited more severe sensory abnormalities and sleep disturbances than age-matched controls. The sleep disturbance scores were moderately associated with touch and oral sensitivities in the autism group and with touch and vestibular sensitivities in the control group. Hypersensitivity towards touch, in particular, exhibited the strongest relationship with sleep disturbances in the autism group and single-handedly explained 24% of the variance in total sleep disturbance scores. In contrast, sensitivity in other sensory domains such as vision and audition was not associated with sleep quality in either group. Conclusions While it is often assumed that sensitivities in all sensory domains are similarly associated with sleep problems, our results suggest that hypersensitivity towards touch exhibits the strongest relationship with sleep disturbances when examining children autism. We speculate that hypersensitivity towards touch interferes with sleep onset and maintenance in a considerable number of children with autism who exhibit severe sleep disturbances. This may indicate the existence of a specific sleep disturbance mechanism that is associated with sensitivity to touch, which may be important to consider in future scientific and clinical studies.

publication date

  • January 1, 2018