little girl in bedCollaboration between pediatricians, respiratory specialists, and sleep medicine specialists when a sleep problem is suspected in pediatric patients may lead to better outcomes, according to new research led by a scientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

The authors found that children with sleep-related breathing problems—such as snoring or apnea—frequently have concurrent behavioral sleep problems, such as waking repeatedly—and vice versa. They note, however, that children with one type of sleep problem are not routinely evaluated and treated for the others.

“Our findings should raise awareness among parents and physicians that if a child is sleeping poorly, they should delve deeper to see if there is an unrecognized respiratory-related sleep problem,” said senior author Karen Bonuck, PhD, professor of family and social medicine and of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health at Einstein. “The best way to make sure this happens is by taking an interdisciplinary approach to the care of these children.”

Hoping to gain insight into the co-occurrence of behavioral sleep problems and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), Bonuck and colleagues analyzed data on more than 11,000 children enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a project based in the United Kingdom.

They discovered that among children with behavioral sleep problems, 26% to 40% had habitual SDB, peaking at 30 months. Among children who had habitual SDB, 25% to 37% also had a behavioral sleep problem, peaking at 30 months.

Although the authors believe it is unlikely that behavioral sleep problems cause SDB, Bonuck said the converse might be true.

“It’s important that we pay attention to how our children are sleeping,” she said. “There’s ample evidence that anything that interrupts sleep can negatively affect a child’s emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and academic development. Fortunately, snoring and apnea are highly treatable, and there are many effective interventions for behavioral sleep problems.”