What’s the connection between sleep disturbances in early childhood and learning difficulties later on in life? More than you might think.
A new study published this month in Pediatrics found that children whose parents had reported problems with their breathing during sleep or behavioral sleep problems early on in life had a higher incidence of special educational need at the age of 8.
The researchers conducted serial interviews with parents of more than 11,000 British children starting when the children were six months old. They found that for every year that the child had a behavioral sleep problem, the likelihood of his having a special educational need at age 8 was increased by 7%. Likewise, the presence of signs of sleep disordered breathing (such as snoring, mouth breathing, pauses in breathing during sleep) was associated with an almost 40% greater chance of a special educational need at age 8.
The findings connecting sleep disordered breathing with learning disability are worrisome, if predictable. They combine with those of other studies which show that sleep disordered breathing is associated with lower cognitive ability and school performance.
With respect to the behavioral sleep disturbances and special educational need, it is unclear whether the first causes the second, or whether both are different presentations of the same underlying problem. Regardless, one has to agree with the conclusion of the authors that the “findings highlight the need for pediatric sleep disorder screening by early interventionists, early childhood educators, and health professionals.”
Dennis Rosen, M.D.
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