“Previous research has shown that bedroom access to screen-based media is associated with less time spent sleeping in the general population,” said Christopher Engelhardt, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders and the MU School of Health Professions.
“We found that this relationship is stronger among boys with autism.
“Our current results were cross-sectional, meaning that we are not able to determine whether pre-bedtime media exposure causes some children with autism to sleep less,” he said.
“However, the relationship between bedroom media access and sleep was particularly large among boys with autism, suggesting that we should continue to carefully research this possibility.”
For the study, researchers looked at the relationship between media use and sleep among boys with autism compared to typically developing boys or boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Parents of the boys in each group were surveyed regarding the child’s hours of media use each day, bedroom access to media and the average hours of sleep they received per night. The findings revealed a link between bedroom access to a television or computer and reduced sleep among boys with autism.
Furthermore, average video-game exposure was connected to less time spent sleeping among the boys with ASD.
“Even though our findings are preliminary, parents should be aware that media use may have an effect on sleep, especially for children with autism,” Engelhardt said. “If children are having sleep problems, parents might consider monitoring and possibly limiting their children’s media use, especially around bedtime.”
Engelhardt says future research should investigate the processes by which bedroom access to media could contribute to sleep disturbances in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“It is also important to note that some media use may also be beneficial for children with autism,” Engelhardt said. “Future research is also needed to determine how video games and other technologies may be helpful in teaching and reinforcing skills and behaviors.”
It is estimated that about one in 88 children have ASD, which is characterized by social and communication difficulties as well as repetitive behaviors.
Sleep problems are very common in children with autism, and this may be due to a variety of underlying causes. Media use may worsen some of these underlying factors, and it appears to be an area for future research, Engelhardt said.