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09 Aug 2021, 7:13 am

Genetic roots of sleep issues, autism may be entwined

The genetic factors that influence autism may overlap with those that underlie insomnia, according to a new study of autistic people and their relatives. By contrast, the two conditions show minimal overlap in environmental influences.

The results may help explain the frequent co-occurrence of autism and sleep issues, says lead investigator Mark Taylor, researcher in psychiatric epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Up to 90 percent of people with autism have disrupted sleep, and about 30 percent have a clinical diagnosis of a sleep disorder, according to previous research.

The strong overlap between the conditions underscores the importance of diagnosing and treating sleep problems in autistic individuals, says Philippe Mourrain, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California, who was not involved in the research.

“Sleep problems are overlooked. They are thought of as a byproduct — additional symptoms not worthy of investigating when it comes to autism,” he says. But in fact, poor sleep can impact brain development and influence the severity of autism traits.

Taylor and his colleagues used Swedish national health registries to identify 50,097 autistic people, along with nearly 56,000 of their full siblings (including 60 identical and 340 fraternal twins), 31,669 half-siblings and 214,665 cousins. They also analyzed data from 500,970 unrelated sex- and age-matched controls. They determined which participants had a diagnosis of insomnia — difficulty falling or staying asleep — or took melatonin, which in Sweden was available only by prescription before May 2021, when it became available over the counter.

About 23 percent of the autistic participants had insomnia or took melatonin, compared with 1.1 percent of the controls, the study shows. What’s more, the relatives of autistic people are also at increased odds of having insomnia; the more closely related the family member, the greater their chances are. Identical twins, for example, had about 6.6 times the usual odds of having insomnia, whereas cousins had about 1.3 times the usual odds.

A second analysis of data from 30,558 identical and fraternal twins in the ongoing Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden yielded similar results: Among 423 autistic twins in this sample, about 39 percent had insomnia or had been prescribed melatonin, compared with only 4 percent of the non-autistic twins.

Taylor’s team is examining the co-occurrence of autism and other traits with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some traits, including sensory sensitivity, hyperactivity and anxiety, can contribute to poor sleep in autistic people and are genetically correlated with autism, he says — leaving open the possibility that insomnia is not directly correlated genetically to autism, but rather to other co-occurring conditions.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman

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Snowy Owl
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09 Aug 2021, 12:41 pm

I have had a hard time sleeping since I was at least 10 years of age. Sleeplessness for me has become a commonly occurring event. Add to that depression, anxiety, and RLS, and I have had times when it can be really rough.

I am not sure how much of it is Autism and how much is other stuff. I am also Asthmatic, and the medicine for Asthma can impact sleep (Though typically I don't take it at night unless necessary).

Harry Haller
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

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09 Aug 2021, 1:03 pm

Yeah, can't dig it up right now (time) but there are studies examining the correlation between the diagnosis and sleep dysregulation.

In particular Stage III (slow wave/delta wave sleep) is significantly diminished, which may be problematic.
This stage sleep is thought critical for the glymphatic system ridding the brain of debris, such as beta-amyloid -- and the accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain is correlated with Alzheimer's dementia.

Stage III is also when human growth hormone is secreted and other bodily repair functions occur.

So yeah, there's a correlation, but the impact (if any) is not known yet.

Snowy Owl
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11 Aug 2021, 4:57 am

I’ve had sleep issues on and off for most of my life. Poor quality sleep, difficulty getting to sleep and frequently waking up over the course of the night.
Poor sleep for me means increased anxiety and less emotional regulation.
My mother is NT, but has also struggled with sleep.
My partner reports I twitch all night even when I’m in periods of having good sleep and I have frequently suffered from RLS, which usually get better with iron infusions (I’m chronically iron deficient).


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11 Aug 2021, 5:11 am

I sleep fairly okay, but I do get up frequently in the middle of the night.

I sleepwalked a bit during early childhood.


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11 Aug 2021, 5:25 am

Well, I'm on that day of the week I don't even bother trying to sleep because it won't happen. :nerdy:

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11 Aug 2021, 8:00 am

I've had issues sleeping since I was a baby/toddler. I remember staying up until, or waking up around, 2-4 AM, and just giving up and watching cartoons while the rest of my family was asleep. What's funny though is I apparently slept so much and so deeply as a newborn that I wouldn't wake up through the night, like newborns are supposed to so they can get fed, but when I got a bit older I started finding it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. That's supposed to be reversed! lol

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11 Aug 2021, 8:32 am

It mostly depends on whether I exercise but if I'm really anxious I'll have trouble sleeping regardless. My mom is NT and has insomnia.


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11 Aug 2021, 12:34 pm

It is true in my case. Even childhood I already have issues with sleep.

Yet not truly for sensory or mental issues.
My sleep went bad at age 8. At first it was out of habit -- so there's no real consequences if I sleep 3 or 8 hours because there are no sleep quality issues.

But when I entered later teenage years... That's when it started -- the increasingly poor sleep quality.

Increasingly worse reasons to lose quality sleep; because I only get sick when I sleep for as long as I could remember.

Because my sinurhinitis wouldn't allow me to breathe well and it's worse at night.
My occasional hormonal issues ranging from less regulated thoughts and feelings, to sensory and gut related issues regardless of what I consumed or done for the day.
And apparently low blood pressure -- it wasn't an issue when I was in teenage years.

Sleep issues doesn't run in my family.
Poor sleep isn't an issue to those who decidedly sleep less or have irregular schedules either.

Just me.

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11 Aug 2021, 1:26 pm

Thanks for posting AsPartofMe. Sleep issues and autism is something of interest. Interesting read!

I wrote the following some years back including research articles …. Apologies for the length of this. Hope it may be helpful for some.

“Counting Sheep - Sleep Issues on the Spectrum”:


Issues with sleep are common from birth through each and every stage of life for many, if not most, on the autism spectrum. These issues may include: unusual patterns of sleep, bedtime resistance, bedtime anxiety, delayed sleep onset, nighttime awakenings, nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, snoring, bed-wetting, early morning awakenings, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Anxiety plays a key role in hampering sleep efforts. A calm, firm and reliable routine from morning to night, including regular daily exercise can greatly help reduce anxiety and pave the way for better sleep, and better well-being all round. Books have always been a major source of comfort for myself and my children.

They played and continue to play a key role in bridging that transition from the relative safety of ‘the light of day’ to what can sometimes be ‘the unknown terror of darkness/night’, especially if nightmares are prevalent and repetitive. Some children on the spectrum are able to control their dreams from a young age, so great is the fear, and some report learning to ‘fly’ in their dreams as a means of rising above and escaping the ‘fear’. Adolescents and adults may replay the events of the day or the past over and over in their minds, as time ticks by. How easy life would be to have an on/off switch for such times, when to ‘quiet the mind’ would make all the difference. Some ‘practice calm’ through yoga, meditation etc. Some adults find sleep is hastened with the security and comfort of the white noise of television in the background. Some drift off to a favoured piece of classical music.

Some adults are fortunate to sleep relatively well, while others find themselves booked into sleep clinics for overnight study. That elusive ‘good night’s sleep’ for some is hard earned and hard won. For others, vast improvement may come with age and maturity. The latest studies point out that better sleep usually arises from retirement. For those of us who aren’t quite ready for retirement yet, the following is a small compilation of articles and research for further reading on this important issue.


“Sleep and Autism: helping you or your child”:

“Night Terrors”:
Night terrors are distinctly different from the much more common nightmares, which occur during REM sleep. Night terrors are characterized by frequent recurrent episodes of intense crying and fear during sleep, with difficulty arousing the child. Night terrors are frightening episodes that disrupt family life.
An estimated 1-6% of children experience night terrors. Boys and girls are equally affected. Children of all races also seem to be affected equally. The disorder usually resolves during adolescence. ... cle_em.htm

“Night Terrors?”:

“Sleepwalking” ... cle_em.htm


Latest Studies
“Sleep: A Common Science Mystery”: ... e-mystery/

“Study: Melatonin Can Treat Sleep Problems Of Autistic Children”: ... -children/

“Significant Sleep Deprivation & Stress Among College Students, USA”: ... dents-usa/

“Primary Insomnia Linked to a Neurochemical Abnormality”: ... normality/

“NYTimes: Gene Mutation Tied to Needing Less Sleep/Online Sleep Programs Promising in Helping Insomniacs, Studies Show”: ... dies-show/

“Treating Sleep Disorders May Ease Anxiety & Mood Disorders”: ... sorders-2/

“Abstract: Antidepressants and Sleep: A Review”: ... -a-review/

“Does A Good Night’s Sleep Really Help?”: ... ally-help/

“Evidence Suggests Poor Sleep Increases Risk Of Depression”: ... epression/

“Sleep and Our Sanity”: ... ur-sanity/

“Sleep Disturbances Improve After Retirement”: ... 132537.htm

“Sleep: Dreamlike Thoughts During Sleepwalking and Sleep Terror Episodes/Sleep Changes Predict Onset of Physical Changes Associated With Puberty”: ... error-etc/

“Chronic Insomnia: Losing Sleep, Losing Brain?”: ... ing-brain/

“Therapy To Quiet Mind Eases Insomnia”: ... -insomnia/

“Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Brain Functioning Different Than Previously Thought”: ... y-thought/

“Take That Nap! It May Boost Your Learning Capacity Among Other Good Things”: ... od-things/

“Abstract: Sleep Problems In Autistic Children And In Typically Developing Children”: ... -children/

“Naps and Dreams Help Academics/The Secrets of Sleep”: ... -of-sleep/

“Sleep: Short Sleep Increases Risk Of Death And Over-Long Sleep Can Indicate Serious Illness”: ... s-illness/

“Why Night Owls Are More Intelligent Than Morning Larks”: ... ing-larks/

“Abstract: Atypical Sleep Architecture and the Autism Phenotype/An Investigation Into Sleep Characteristics Of Autistic/AS Children”: ... -children/

“NYTimes: Phys Ed: Does Exercise Help You Sleep Better?”: ... -better-2/

“DSM 5 Sleep Disorders Overhaul/Sleep-Disordered Breathing Common/Sleep Apnea In Children & Teens”: ... n-teens-2/

“Circadian Rhythms, Their Role and Dysfunction In Affective Disorders”: ... disorders/

“To Dream, Perchance To Sleep”: ... -to-sleep/

“Sleep Case Study: There’s A Party In My Dream And Everyone’s Invited”: ... invited-2/

“Children and Sleeping Pills”: ... g-pills-2/

“The Importance Of Bedtime Routines With Your Autism Spectrum Child”: ... rum-child/

“REM Sleep Disorder As Early Warning Of Neurologic Impairment”: ... airment-2/

“Seven Hours Sleep A Night Best For Health/Tired On Mondays? Sleep More On Weekends”: ... -weekends/

“Cumulative Sleep Deprivation Harms Brain and Body”: ... -and-body/


“Sleep better!: a guide to improving sleep for children with special needs”
Author: V. Mark Durrand ... =1-1-spell

I included some information on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as well, since that too is relatable …

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

“Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ~ An Inside Look”: ... side-look/

“Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”: ... andCFS.htm

“Abstract: A Two-Year Follow-Up Study of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Comorbid with Psychiatric Disorders”: ... disorders/

“Recovering From Chronic Fatigue Syndrome(CFS)”: ... romecfs-2/