MONDAY, May 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Sleep-onset problems in the first year of life may precede an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis in children at higher risk for ASD, according to a study published online May 7 in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Katherine E. MacDuffie, Ph.D., from the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues conducted a neuroimaging study of infants at familial high or low risk for ASD. Parent-reported sleep-onset problems were evaluated in relation to subcortical brain volumes in the first two years of life. The analysis included infants with high risk who developed ASD (71), high risk who did not develop ASD (234), and low risk (127).

The researchers found that sleep-onset problems were more common at 6 to 12 months of age for infants who later developed ASD. For those high-risk infants who developed ASD, infant sleep-onset problems were related to hippocampal volume trajectories from 6 to 24 months. Only for the hippocampus were brain-sleep relationships seen, with no significant relationships associated with volume trajectories of other subcortical structures examined (amygdala, caudate, globus pallidus, putamen, and thalamus).

“If confirmed by more in-depth studies, patterns of sleep disturbance in early life might be used to pinpoint increased risk for ASD among young children already at risk because they have a sibling with ASD,” Alice Kau, Ph.D., from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement.

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