Infant sleep predicts trajectories of social attention and later autism traits


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Background: Children with neurodevelopmental disorders including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often experience sleep disturbances, but little is known about when these sleep differences emerge and how they relate to later development. Methods: We used a prospective longitudinal design in infants with a family history of ASD and/or ADHD to examine infant sleep and its relation to trajectories of attention and later neurodevelopmental disorders. We formed factors of Day and Night Sleep from parent-reported measures (including day/night sleep duration, number of naps in the day, frequency of night awakenings and sleep onset problems). We examined sleep in 164 infants at 5-, 10- and 14-months with/without a first-degree relative with ASD and/or ADHD who underwent a consensus clinical assessment for ASD at age 3. Results: By 14-months, infants with a first-degree relative with ASD (but not ADHD) showed lower Night Sleep scores than infants with no family history of ASD; lower Night Sleep scores in infancy were also associated with a later ASD diagnosis, decreased cognitive ability, increased ASD symptomatology at 3-years, and developing social attention (e.g., looking to faces). We found no such effects with Day Sleep. Conclusions: Sleep disturbances may be apparent at night from 14-months in infants with a family history of ASD and also those with later ASD, but were not associated with a family history of ADHD. Infant sleep disturbances were also linked to later dimensional variation in cognitive and social skills across the cohort. Night Sleep and Social Attention were interrelated over the first 2 years of life, suggesting that this may be one mechanism through which sleep quality influences neurodevelopment. Interventions targeted towards supporting families with their infant's sleep problems may be useful in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1200-1211
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • eye tracking
  • infancy
  • sleep
  • social attention


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