Amy Licis, MD: How Sleep Issues Impact Children with Autism or ADHD


Sleep issues are prevalent among children with autism or ADHD and both these common disorders are increasing. Any provider working with children is most likely going to encounter patients struggling with sleep.

During the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (SLEEP) 2022 Annual Meeting Amy Licis, MD, MSCI, Associate Professor, Pediatric Neurology and Sleep Medicine, Washington University Department of Neurology, gave a presentatgave a presentationion titled "Tired and Wired: Sleep in Children with Autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)".

In an interview with HCPLive, Licis discussed the data behind her presentation as well as the significance of addressing sleep dysfunction in this pediatric population.

Autism and ADHD are both common disorders that are increasing in prevalence and sleep issues are prominent among children with these diagnoses. So, treating children with autism or ADHD is something pediatric sleep specialists encounter often, according to Licis.

Sleep issues are common even outside of these populations, so any provider working with children is most likely going to be faced with a patient struggling with sleep. However, Licis explained that the pathophysiology is "somewhat complex."

"We're finding more and more that it's rooted in some neurobiological differences in the function in the anatomy, that do seem to affect sleep," she said. "So, it's not simply behavioral, we do think that there are underlying biological differences with their sleep."

Research has shown that when children with autism or ADHD experience issues with sleep it affects their learning, functioning and behavior. Specifically in children with autism, worse behavior was observed in those who had sleep issues compared with those who didn't.

In children with ADHD, differences in their learning were identified between those who struggled with sleep and those who didn't. Licis mentioned that issues with sleep have multiple impacts on health in children in general.

"Children who have worse sleep are found to be more likely to be overweight, and also have more long term cardiovascular issues," she said.

In order to raise awareness of these sleep issues and the underlying biological differences that influence sleep, Licis believes it's important to gain a better understanding of the pediatric population living with autism or ADHD.

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