A Link Between Sleeping and Learning?

Sleeping breathing and behavior problems may be risk factor for special education needs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A child's sleeping difficulties aren't fun for anyone. But they're important to address. Sleep is linked to other health issues.

A recent study found that children with sleep breathing or behavioral problems are more likely to have special education needs later on.

The bottom line is that parents whose children have sleeping issues should talk to a pediatrician about their concerns.

"Inform your pediatrician about sleeping problems."

The study, led by Karen Bonuck, PhD, of the Department of Family Medicine within the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, looked at the link between special education needs and children's earlier experiences with sleep-disordered breathing and/or behavioral sleep problems.

Sleep-disordered breathing refers to breathing behaviors while a child is asleep that are outside what is typical or normal for a healthy child.

These behaviors includes snoring, "apnea" and breathing through the mouth instead of the nose. Apnea occurs when a child stops breathing for a certain period of time while asleep.

In this study, the researchers gathered information on sleep disordered-breathing and on behavioral sleep problems at five different points for over 11,000 children up until age 5.

Information about sleep-disordered breathing was gathered for 11,049 children at ages 6 months, 18 months, 2 years, 3 years and 4 years old (3 months before their fifth birthday).

Information was also gathered from parents of 11,467 children at all of these points except the 6-month-old point regarding sleep behaviors. The researchers noted which children showed five or more of seven different behavioral sleep problems.

These problems included a child's refusal to go to bed and regularly having nightmares, waking up early, having difficulty sleeping, getting up right after going to bed, waking up at night, and getting up after only a few hours of sleep.

The children were classified into five groups based on their sleep breathing and behaviors.

Then parents were asked when the children were 8 years old whether their child had any special education needs. Special education needs include needing services for speech, language or communication issues, for a learning disability or for behavioral, emotional or social challenges.

Children were 7 percent more likely to have special education needs for approximately each year that they showed behavioral sleep problems.

Meanwhile, 72 percent of those who had a special educational need had some type of sleep-disordered breathing issue during at least one of their age points, compared to 62 percent of those without an educational need.

The researchers took into account a number of factors in their calculations. These included whether the mom smoked before pregnancy, whether she breastfed her child, her education level and how many weeks pregnant she was when she gave birth.

The researchers also considered each child's ethnicity, type of housing, birth weight and IQ as well as the child's father's social class (blue or white collar), the family's overall exposure to various stresses and an assessment of the child's home environment.

After taking these into account, the researchers found that children who had any kind of sleep-disordered breathing issue were 40 percent more likely to have special education needs.

However, overall, the children with special education needs were different from those without needs in nearly all of the characteristics above.

Therefore, even making adjustments, it's hard to say how much of the special education needs might be linked directly to the sleep-disordered breathing or poor sleep behaviors.

The study was published September 3 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 21, 2012
Last Updated:
October 22, 2012