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Why are children at risk for undiagnosed sleep problems?

A recent study points to a partial explanation for why children are at risk for undiagnosed sleep problems: very few pediatricians are trained in sleep issues, and many do not feel confident in making diagnoses related to sleep.

Using a questionnaire that was distributed to 700 pediatricians, all of whom were members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the study evaluated the screening practices that pediatricians use to identify possible sleep problems in children. The study also looked at how knowledgeable pediatricians are about sleep problems that are common to children, and whether they received any formal training in sleep during their medical education.

The results are troubling news for the many parents of children who struggle with disrupted sleep. Despite a widespread belief among pediatricians that sleep issues are important to children’s health, many of the doctors surveyed showed a lack of basic knowledge about sleep issues, and few had received any specific training in sleep medicine. Researchers reported that:
  • Ninety-six percent of pediatricians believe it is their job to provide treatment guidance on issues related to sleep and sleep problems.
  • Only 18% of those surveyed had received formal training related to sleep and sleep disorders.
  • Fewer than one in six pediatricians reported feeling confident in their abilities to provide guidance to parents about their children’s sleep.
The pediatricians surveyed also appear to have gaps in their knowledge about the sleep issues that can affect children. When asked a series of questions about specific sleep disorders:
  • Only 13% were able to answer questions about snoring correctly.
  • Only 13% responded correctly to questions about sleep apnea.
  • Only 29% had correct answers to questions about bed wetting.
  • Only 8% answered questions about narcolepsy correctly.
Among the minority of pediatricians who had received training in sleep issues, these doctors demonstrated a greater knowledge of sleep disorders, reported higher levels of confidence in providing counseling and diagnosis of sleep problems and were more likely to screen for sleep problems in their patients.

Another troubling result? Only 12% of pediatricians believed that parents would bring up their children’s sleep issues at a doctor’s visit. This lack of confidence unfortunately speaks volumes about the overall lack of communication about kids’ sleep between parents and pediatricians.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.