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Investigating longitudinal associations between parent reported sleep in early childhood and teacher reported executive functioning in school-aged children with autism

Tesfaye, Rackeb, Wright, Nicola ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3285-2051, Zaidman-Zait, Anat, Bedford, Rachael, Zwaigenbaum, Lonnie, Kerns, Connor M, Duku, Eric, Mirenda, Pat, Bennett, Teresa, Georgiades, Stelios, Smith, Isabel M, Vaillancourt, Tracy, Pickles, Andrew, Szatmari, Peter and Elsabbagh, Mayada (2021) Investigating longitudinal associations between parent reported sleep in early childhood and teacher reported executive functioning in school-aged children with autism. Sleep, 44 (9). ISSN 0161-8105

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Abstract

Up to 80% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience sleep disturbance. Poor sleep impairs executive functioning (EF), a lifelong difficulty in ASD. Evidence suggests EF difficulties in ASD are exacerbated by poor sleep. We examine whether early childhood sleep disturbances are associated with worsening EF trajectories in school-aged children with ASD. A subsample (n = 217) from the Pathways in ASD longitudinal study was analyzed. The Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire captured sleep duration, onset, and night awakenings before age 5 (mean = 3.5 years). Metacognition (MI) and Behavioral Regulation (BRI) indices, on the Teacher Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning, were used to measure cognitive and affective components of EF respectively at four time-points (7.8–11.8 years). We applied latent growth curve models to examine associations between sleep and EF, accounting for relevant covariates, including school-age sleep (mean = 6.7 years). Sleep traits had different age-related impacts on behavioral regulation, but not metacognition. Longer sleep onset at 3.5 years was associated with a worsening BRI difficulties slope (b = 2.07, p < 0.04), but conversely associated with lower BRI difficulties at 7.7 years (b = −4.14, p = 0.04). A longer sleep onset at 6.7 years was related to higher BRI difficulties at 7.7 years (b = 7.78, p < 0.01). Longer sleep duration at 6.7 years was associated with higher BRI difficulties at age 7.7 (b = 3.15, p = 0.01), but subscale analyses revealed shorter sleep duration at age 6.7 was linked to a worsening inhibition slope (b = −0.60, p = 0.01). Sleep onset is a robust early correlate of behavior regulation in children with ASD, whereas sleep duration is a later childhood correlate.

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