Sleep in autism: a biomolecular approach to aetiology and treatment Academic Article uri icon


  • People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) commonly experience other comorbidities. Studies indicate that between 50% and 83% of individuals with ASD have sleep problems or disorders. The most commonly reported sleep problems are: (a) insomnia symptoms including the inability to get to sleep or stay asleep; and (b) circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders, defined as a misalignment between the timing of endogenous circadian rhythms and the external environment. The circadian system provides timing information for the sleep-wake cycle that is regulated by the interaction of an endogenous processes (circadian - Process C, and homeostatic - Process S) and synchronizing agents (neurohormones and neurotransmitters), which produce somnogenic activity. A clinical priority in ASD is understanding the cause of these sleep problems in order to improve treatment outcomes. This review approaches sleep in autism from several perspectives: Sleep-wake mechanisms and problems, and brain areas and molecules controlling sleep (e.g., GABA and melatonin) and wake maintenance (e.g., serotonin, acetylcholine and glutamate). Specifically, this review examines how altered sleep structure could be related to neurobiological alterations or genetic mutations and the implications this may have for potential pharmacological treatments in individuals with ASD.

publication date

  • 2020