Sleep and health in autistic adults
Rationale and Aims
We designed this project because many autistic individuals informed us about experiencing sleep problems. As a result, we wanted to learn more about these sleep problems and provide ways that may help improve their sleep. Throughout the project we have working collaboratively with a number of autistic advisers to search for the best sleep related solution/s.
In the initial stages of our project, we invited autistic adults to complete a survey about their sleep and how it related to their health both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. We had over 400 autistic adults complete the survey. We have recently had two papers related to the survey accepted for publication.
Our first paper was about changes in sleep and mental health as a result of COVID. We found that several components of sleep improved during lockdown for some of our participants, including time taken to fall asleep and better daytime functioning. We also found a decrease in anxiety and worry before falling asleep.
However, some participants also felt their sleep had been impacted negatively by the pandemic, and often were waking up more exhausted and having more nightmares. This paper concludes that the pandemic has led to a range of different sleep outcomes in autistic adults. You can read more about this paper by clicking here.
Our second paper looked at what demographic and social factors influenced sleep quality. We found that individuals who had a diagnosis of anxiety and/or insomnia had the poorest sleep quality. In addition, participants who napped during the day reported higher daytime dysfunction and daytime sleepiness. This paper provides new findings on the factors which can influence sleep quality in autistic adults. You can read more about this paper by clicking here.
We have run a series of online focus groups to gather additional information on sleep and mental health in autistic adults. We have now analysed our data and are in the process of preparing a manuscript for publication.
We have also conducted a study looking at cortisol levels and sleep in autistic adults. Given the research that cortisol levels may disrupt sleep in this population. We have now collected this data and are in the process of analysing it.
In the final stage of our project, we are piloting a specific behavioural sleep programme tailored to autistic adults. Informed by our former studies, we hope that this programme will result in improved sleep, and better quality of life in this population. We are currently still collecting data for this study and our findings on its feasibility should be available next year.
We need you!
If you are interested in the studies on this project or research in the lab in general, we’d love to hear from you. If you are an autistic individual, a parent, an academic, a professional or simply intrigued, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Alternatively, feel free to contact us using the contact details below or through our Facebook or Twitter pages. This project is funded by the John and Lorna Wing Foundation.
PI: Prof. Dagmara Dimitriou firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Elizabeth Halstead email@example.com
Emma Sullivan firstname.lastname@example.org