This study aimed to determine the sleep patterns and dysfunctions in children with learning problems in comparison against a local population-based sample. Materials and Methods: Parents of 200 children with learning problems and 372 parents of a local population-based sample of typically developing (TD) children were recruited to complete a questionnaire on their child’s sleep patterns and sleep problems. The Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ) is a validated parent-reported sleep screening questionnaire that contains 54 items identifying sleep behaviours in children. Results: The mean age of the sample was 4.2 years (SD: 1.4; range, 2 to 6 years). Sleep duration was similar between the 2 groups. The difference in mean CSHQ subscale scores between children with learning problems and TD children was significant for sleep-disordered breathing (1.3 vs 1.2, P = 0.001). Among children with learning problems, 36.5% snored (vs 26.6% of TD children), 30.5% had noisy breathing (vs 18.8%), and 9.0% (vs 4.6%) experienced difficulty breathing 2 or more times a week. Children with learning problems woke up in a more irritable mood (P = 0.01), had more difficulty in getting out of bed (P <0.001), and took a longer time to be alert (P <0.001). They exhibited fewer behaviours of daytime drowsiness (P = 0.009). Among this group of children, 15.0% of parents reported that their child had a sleep problem compared to 9.0% in the TD group. Conclusion: Sleep breathing disorders and symptoms of morning sleepiness are more prevalent in children with learning problems. Symptoms of daytime lethargy are similar between the 2 groups. We suggest that a simple outpatient screening targeted at these problems be instituted in the initial workup of any child with learning difficulties.
Sleep problems in preschool children are common and they are even more prevalent and persistent in children with learning disabilities. In addition to causing both child and parent significant distress at bedtime and during the night, sleep problems also compound daytime functional difficulties and even play a role in the development of daytime behavioural problems.
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