Can't Eat, Can't Sleep

Feeding disorders and behavioral insomnia tend to coexist in early childhood

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(RxWiki News) It's hard enough to get a baby to sleep. Now, researchers say that babies and toddlers who have trouble sleeping may also have eating problems.

In a study of children between 6 and 36 months of age, Israeli researchers examined the relationship between behavioral insomnia and feeding disorders, two types of disorders common among young children. They found that the two problems often go hand-in-hand.

dailyRx Insight: Doctors need to be aware when a toddler has BOTH insomnia and a feeding problem.

Behavioral insomnia - which affects as much as 30 percent of children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years - is a sleep disorder in which a young child regularly resists going to bed or has trouble staying asleep. A similar number of young children have feeding problems. These problems can be anything from being a fussy eater to a serious eating disorder, such as when a child's refusal to eat food affects his or her weight.

For their study, Riva Tauman, M.D., from Tel Aviv Medical Center, and colleagues recruited 681 children. Of those, 58 had behavioral insomnia, 76 had feeding disorders, and 547 served as control comparisons. Drawing on information from a parental questionnaire, the researchers found that children with feeding disorders were more likely than the controls to have sleep problems. Similarly, children with behavioral insomnia were more likely than the controls to have feeding problems.

More specifically, 37 percent of parents of children with feeding disorders reported that their child's sleep was problematic, compared to 16 percent of parents from the control group. Twenty-six percent of parents of children with behavioral insomnia considered their child's feeding habits as a problem, compared to 9 percent of parents from the control group.

Dr. Tauman and colleagues conclude that sleep and feeding problems among young children tend to coexist. If clinicians become more aware of this relationship, they may be able to intervene early and improve the health of children.

Nearly 70 percent of children 10 years of age and younger experience some sort of sleep problem, including insomnia, nightmares, restless legs syndrome, sleepwalking, sleepwalking, sleep terrors, snoring, and sleep apnea.

Anywhere from five to 20 percent of otherwise healthy children are diagnosed with feeding disorders. Between 40 and 80 percent of children with disabilities have feeding disorders. Feeding disorders among children account for one to five percent of all hospital admissions.

The study by Tauman's team is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Last Updated:
March 11, 2011