Sleeping Sound Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): a randomised controlled trial of a brief behavioural sleep intervention in primary school-aged autistic children

Nicole Papadopoulos, Emma Sciberras, Harriet Hiscock, Katrina Williams, Jane McGillivray, Cathrine Mihalopoulos, Lidia Engel, Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, Susannah T. Bellows, Deborah Marks, Patricia Howlin, Nicole Rinehart

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Behavioural sleep problems are common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, evidence for the efficacy of behavioural sleep interventions is limited. This study examined the efficacy of a brief behavioural sleep intervention in autistic children. It was hypothesised that the intervention would reduce overall child sleep problems (primary outcome), in addition to improvements in children’s social, emotional, cognitive, academic functioning, and quality of life, and parent/caregivers’ stress, quality of life, and mental health (secondary outcomes). Methods: A randomised controlled trial was conducted with participants randomised via a computer-generated sequence to the sleeping sound intervention (n = 123) or treatment as usual (n = 122) group. Participants comprised 245 children with an ASD diagnosis. Inclusion criteria were as follows: confirmation of DSM IV or DSM-5 diagnosis of ASD, participants aged between 5 and 13 years and parent/caregiver report of moderate–severe sleep problems. Exclusion criteria were as follows: parent/caregiver intellectual disability or lacking sufficient English to complete questionnaires; and child participant with co-occurring medical conditions known to impact sleep. The intervention group received the sleeping sound intervention (2 × 50-min face-to-face sessions plus follow-up phone call) by a trained clinician. Results: Change in children’s sleep problems was measured by the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ) at 3 months post randomisation. Parents/caregivers of children in the intervention group reported a reduction in child sleep problems at 3 months post randomisation (effect size: E.S −0.7). There were also small effects in a number of child (internalising symptoms, emotional behavioural disturbance and quality of life) and parent/caregiver (mental health, parenting stress and quality of life) outcomes; however, these did not remain significant when controlling for multiple comparisons. Conclusions: The sleeping sound ASD intervention is an efficacious and practical way to reduce sleep problems for autistic children. This brief behavioural intervention has the potential to be embedded easily into the Australian healthcare system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1423-1433
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • intervention
  • RCT design
  • sleep
  • treatment trial

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