A high rate of sleep disturbances has been reported in individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) but the underlying aetiology has yet to be identified. Melatonin and cortisol levels display circadian rhythmicity and are known to affect and regulate sleep/wake patterns. The current study examined the levels of these two endocrine markers and explored a possible relationship with sleep patterns in children with WS.
Twenty-five children with WS and 27 typically developing age- and gender-matched comparison children were recruited. Saliva was collected from each child at three time points: 4–6 pm, before natural bedtime, and after awakening. The levels of salivary melatonin and cortisol were analysed by specific enzyme-linked immunoassays. Sleep patterns were examined using actigraphy and the Children’s Sleep Habit Questionnaire.
The WS group had shallower drops in cortisol and less pronounced increase in melatonin at bedtime compared to the controls. Furthermore, they also had significantly higher levels of cortisol before bedtime.
Increased bedtime cortisol and less pronounced rise in melatonin levels before sleep may play a role in the occurrence of sleep disturbances, such as delayed sleep onset, observed in children with WS. As both markers play a significant role in our circadian rhythm and sleep/wake cycle, it is necessary to examine sleep using multi-system analysis.
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