Next week I will be presenting at the EU FASD Conference in Berlin.
Over the past year I have been looking at the link between sleep, cognition, emotion and behaviour in children with FASD. Our theory is that the less a child sleeps, the more impact it has on their daily function - it sounds like common sense - and we have 'known' this for centuries, but this has not been scientifically measured yet. In fact, scientists cannot yet explain why we sleep. It has something to do with memory consolidation, it has something to do with homeostasis, it has something to do with our neurocognitive development - but what exactly is the thing we do not know.
So over the past year I have been asking parents questions about their children's sleep patterns. Do they sleep well? do they wake up at night? do they snore, are they restless, do they dream, are there nightmares? Then I ask them about:
- Their children's behaviour. Are they aggressive? timid? introverted?
- Their children's anxiety. Are they afraid of things? can they be alone? do they get scared when they take a test at school?
- Their children's executive functioning. Can they plan and organise things? Can they get lists of instructions? What is their memory like?
- Their children's attachment. How do they make friends? How do they relate to the adults around them? what are they like when they are by themselves?
I then take all of this information and put it into a statistical model, which tells me which of the questions most relates to children's sleep habits.
So far, I have focused on children on the FASD and Autism Spectrum, and typically developing children. Here are some preliminary results:
- Children with FASD have the highest number of sleep problems, followed by Autistic children, then Typically Developing children.
- Sleep problems in children with FASD are most related to Executive Functioning (in particular the Executive Functioning component of Inhibition).
- Separation Anxiety is the second most contributory factor to poor sleep in children with FASD.
- The results were the same for Autistic children, but less intensely related to separation and inhibition
I will be presenting these results at the EU FASD Conference. Hopefully this work on FASD and sleep can inform us of how sleep has an impact on children with a neurodevelopmental condition - but most of all, how problems related to FASD can be overcome through things like sleep interventions.