Wearable Devices for Resolving Autism’s Sleep Problems

Autism scientists have long been on a quest to crack the condition’s sleep conundrum. Problems with falling and staying asleep are not typically considered a core trait of autism, but they are exceedingly common among autistic people and have compound effects: They can exacerbate a range of autism traits and are linked to greater difficulties with daily functioning.

But to track and assess what goes on in the body during sleep — historically at least — research participants have had to sleep in a lab, tucked up in a web of cumbersome equipment: The gold-standard approach, polysomnography, temporarily turns a sleeper into something resembling the prey of a giant electrical spider, bound in electrodes and wire leads that capture brain activity via electroencephalography (EEG), and breathing and body position, among other measures.

This scenario is uncomfortable enough for neurotypical people, never mind someone with autism who may also have anxiety and sensory, communication or behavioral difficulties, observed Beth Ann Malow, professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

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