Insomnia is a frequent finding in adults with Asperger syndrome

Tani, Pekka; Lindberg, Nina; Wendt, Taina Nieminen-von; Von Wendt, Lennart; Alanko, Lauri; Appelberg, Björn; Porkka-Heiskanen, Tarja
January 2003
BMC Psychiatry;2003, Vol. 3, p12
Academic Journal
Background: Asperger syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder belonging to autism spectrum disorders with prevalence rate of 0,35% in school-age children. It has been most extensively studied in childhood while there is scarcity of reports concerning adulthood of AS subjects despite the lifelong nature of this syndrome. In children with Asperger syndrome the initiation and continuity of sleep is disturbed because of the neuropsychiatric deficits inherent of AS. It is probable that sleep difficulties are present in adulthood as well. Our hypothesis was that adults with AS suffer from difficulty in initiating and maintaining sleep and nonrestorative sleep (insomnia). Methods: 20 AS without medication were compared with 10 healthy controls devoid of neuropsychiatric anamnesis. Clinical examination, blood test battery and head MRI excluded confounding somatic illnesses. Structured psychiatric interview for axis-I and axis-II disorders were given to both groups as well as Beck Depression Inventory and Wechsler adult intelligence scale, revised version. Sleep quality was assessed with sleep questionnaire, sleep diary during 6 consecutive days and description of possible sleep problems by the participants own words was requested. Results: compared with controls and with normative values of good sleep, AS adults had frequent insomnia. In sleep questionnaire 90% (18/20), in sleep diary 75% (15/20) and in free description 85% (17/20) displayed insomnia. There was a substantial psychiatric comorbidity with only 4 AS subject devoid of other axis-I or axis-II disorders besides AS. Also these persons displayed insomnia. It can be noted that the distribution of psychiatric diagnoses in AS subjects was virtually similar to that found among patient with chronic insomnia. Conclusions: the neuropsychiatric deficits inherent of AS predispose both to insomnia and to anxiety and mood disorders. Therefore a careful assessment of sleep quality should be an integral part of the treatment plan in these individuals. Conversely, when assessing adults with chronic insomnia the possibility of autism spectrum disorders as one of the potential causes of this condition should be kept in mind.


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