Investigating day-to-day associations between sleep and mood in autistic adolescents

Investigating the mechanisms underpinning sleep problems and links to mental ill health in autistic children and adolescents

 What is this research about?

  1. We want to learn more about how sleep and mood affect one other on a daily basis for autistic teenagers.
  2. We also want to understand how different things might influence the sleep and mood of autistic teenagers. This includes things like sensory sensitivities (being sensitive to light, sound, or touch), traits related to being autistic, sleep patterns, and things about the environment that you sleep in.
  3. Finally, since we are using some new ways to measure sleep and mood, we would like to hear from autistic teenagers about what it was like to participate in this research.

Who can participate?

Young people can take part in the study if they:

  • Are autistic (formally diagnosed or on a waiting list for diagnostic assessment)
  • Are enrolled in secondary school education (aged 12-18 years)
  • Have been experiencing sleep problems for around one month at least (formal diagnosis not needed)
  • Are willing to visit Edinburgh (accompanied by a parent)
  • Have a good understanding of written and spoken English
  • Do not have an intellectual disability
  • Do not have a diagnosis of epilepsy

What is involved?

  1. A parent takes a screening phone or video call with a researcher (15 min) to check whether the young person is eligible to participate.
  2. The young person and their parent complete online questionnaires at home.
  3. The young person and their parent attend an in-person baseline meeting with a researcher. This is to get set-up with the sleep and mood measurement devices, and to complete some paper questionnaires. This meeting can take place at home or in the University of Edinburgh, based on the participants’ preference.
  4. The young person has their sleep and mood measured at home for two weeks: 
  • Sleep will be measured using a radar-based bedside sensor (the device does not have audio or video recording capacity)
  • For mood measurement, the young person will have to answer short questionnaires (1-2 min completion time) on a smartphone app three times a day

   5. The young person attends an in-person wrap-up meeting where they will complete one final online questionnaire.

For a downloadable overview of what is involved, please follow this link.

Accessibility for autistic participants

This study was designed with input from a team of autistic people and parents of autistic young people who have lived experience of sleep problems. Care was taken to maximise accessibility for autistic participants in terms of things such as the length of involvement, wording on mood questionnaires, and timing/frequency of smartphone notifications.

Is there compensation for participants?

Participants will receive gift vouchers worth £60 as a thank you for their time. They will also receive a personalised, two-week sleep report at the end of the study.

Where can I find more information?

If you have questions, please contact the lead researcher (details below).

Reesha Zahir (lead researcher)


Phone: 07944748692

Twitter: @reeshazahir

How can I participate?

Young people or parents can sign up by contacting the lead researcher, or by providing emails on this online form (you can also scan the QR code in the flyer above to access the form).


Wellcome Trust

Poster for sleep and mood study with image of sleeping person and photo of researcher
Poster for sleep and mood study for autistic young people