Sleep disorders in children beginning school: their causes and effects

Gerd Lehmkuhl, Leonie Fricke-Oerkermann, Alfred Wiater, Alexander Mitschke
Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 2008, 105 (47): 809-14

BACKGROUND: Sleep disorders are a common problem among children beginning school and may be associated both with impaired school performance and with behavioral difficulties. Because these disorders manifest themselves highly variably among children of any given age, and even in an individual affected child, they need an appropriate diagnostic evaluation so that the many environmental and background factors that may be relevant to the further course of the problem can be assessed.

METHODS: Extensive data were obtained on approximately 1400 children who were tested before beginning school in 2005 by means of a special sleep questionnaire and another screening instrument that is used to assess behavioral strengths and difficulties (the SDQ, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire).

RESULTS: Five percent of the children were found to have difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or nocturnal awakening. Less frequent problems included parasomnias such as pavor nocturnus (0.5%), sleepwalking (0.1%), and frequent nightmares (1.7%).

CONCLUSION: Sleep disorders increase the risk of daytime fatigue and of psychological problems in general, including both hyperactivity and excessive emotional stress. These results imply that sleep problems and emotional disturbances are intimately connected and underscore the importance of diagnosing sleep problems in young children.

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