Goals and Objectives:

Sleep and Circadian Dsyfunction, Brain, and Neurobehavioral Development in Autism

Sleep/wake problems are highly prevalent among children with ASD; >60% exhibit frequent sleep disturbances, including delayed sleep onset, fragmented nighttime sleep, and early-morning awakening. Many prior studies of sleep in ASD have relied solely on parent-report measures, such as the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ); fewer have used objective measures like wrist actigraphy to assess sleep/wake activity and little is known about altered (i.e., weak, phase-shifted) RARs and their potential contribution to brain health and behavior in ASD. Further, only a few studies with limited sample sizes have collected both parent-report and actigraphy data in ASD,1 and rigorous comparison of these sleep measures has not been conducted in  this population. Doing so could advance the measurement and precision treatment of disturbed sleep, with the potential to improve outcomes in ASD. Finally, while existing literature links sleep problems to alterations in brain structure and function in children, very few studies have examined the relationship between sleep and brain structure/function in children with ASD.

Our goal is to examine the role of sleep/wake problems in brain and behavioral development in school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this research project, we address two foci/themes of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers (IDDRCs):

  1. To use innovative technologies to improve interventions, assessments, and outcomes
  2. To develop outcome measures or biomarkers for interventions or treatments.

In addition to obtaining objective measures of sleep, we propose to apply innovative analytic methods to wrist actigraphy data to characterize circadian rest-activity rhythms (RARs, i.e., ~24-hour patterns of motor activity). These data will be used to improve assessment of sleep among children with ASD, and identify biologic correlates of ASD and related impairments by examining associations of poor sleep and altered RARs with brain structure, function, and behavior.