Effects of exercise on sleep, melatonin level, and behavioral functioning in children with autism

Choi Yeung Andy TSE, Paul H LEE, Jihui ZHANG, Roy CY CHAN, Amy WY HO, Elvis WH LAI

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Poor sleep quality and low behavioral functioning are commonly reported in children with autism spectrum disorder. This study examined the impact of exercise on sleep on melatonin level and behavioral functioning in the population. Children with autism spectrum disorder(n = 55; age = 10.97 ± 1.90) were randomly allocated to a morning jogging intervention group or a control group. Participants’ sleep was measured using actigraphy and sleep log assessments. Twenty-four-hour and first morning urinary 6-sulfatoxymelatonin were used to determine whether the exercise intervention could elicit changes in melatonin levels. Behavioral functioning of the participants was assessed by the repetitive subscale of the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale–3rd edition. All assessments were carried out in baseline, post-intervention, or regular treatment, and follow-up to elucidate the sustainability of the exercise effects. Positive changes were observed between baseline and post-intervention in actigraphy-assessed sleep efficiency and wake after sleep onset, as well as melatonin level and behavioral functioning within the intervention group (ps < 0.017). However, no significant changes were observed in all measurements between post-intervention and follow-up (ps > 0.05). The findings suggest that physical exercise is effective to improve sleep with an increase in melatonin level. It can also reduce repetitive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Lay abstract
This study examined the impact of physical exercise on sleep and behavioral functioning in children (aged 8–12 years) with autism spectrum disorders. It also investigated whether exercise would alter endogenous melatonin level among the population. Participants were divided into two groups: exercise group (12–week, 30-min morning jogging intervention) and a control group (i.e. did not receive any physical exercise intervention during the study period). Significant improvements on sleep and behavioral functioning were found in the exercise group, but not in the control group Moreover, a significant increase in melatonin level was also shown in the exercise group. Findings of this study reconfirmed the sleep and behavioral benefits of exercise in children with autism spectrum disorder. Melatonin-mediated mechanism should be further explored to develop an effective treatment intervention. Copyright © 2022 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1712-1722
JournalAutism
Volume26
Issue number7
Early online date27 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Citation

Tse, A. C. Y., Lee, P. H., Zhang, J., Chan, R. C. Y., Ho, A. W. Y., & Lai, E. W. H. (2022). Effects of exercise on sleep, melatonin level, and behavioral functioning in children with autism. Autism, 26(7), 1712-1722. doi: 10.1177/13623613211062952

Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Behavioral functioning
  • Children
  • Melatonin
  • Physical exercise
  • Sleep

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