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Sleep Med Rev. 2000 Jun;4(3):299-314.

Behavioural treatments for sleep problems in children and adolescents with physical illness, psychological problems or intellectual disabilities.

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University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry, Park Hospital for Children, Oxford, UK


Young people with physical, psychological or intellectual disabilities or disorders are reported to have more frequent and persistent problems with sleep than their peers without <<<<special needs>>>>. Sleep disorders affecting the quantity or quality of sleep have effects on a child's daytime functioning and the functioning of their families. Many children with special needs have learning and behaviour problems and their parents (particularly mothers) have increased levels of stress and poorer mental health. This relationship between sleep disorders and learning, and behaviour and family functioning makes it particularly important that children with special needs receive appropriate intervention for their sleep disorders. This may be one way of mitigating these other problems. This review considers the case reports and experimental trials which have used behavioural treatments for sleep problems in children and adolescents with special needs. Behavioural treatments for sleep-wake cycle disorders, sleeplessness, parasomnias and excessive sleepiness are reported. These preliminary reports do suggest that behavioural approaches can be rapidly successful for treating sleep problems, even where the sleep problems are long-standing, severe and associated with physical, psychological or intellectual problems. The parent and the clinician should not be deterred from treating the sleep problem in isolation using behavioural treatments. Methodological issues, however, highlight the importance of further and better research. Not all children responded to the behavioural interventions and some needed re-implementation of therapy to maintain improvements; the use of heterogeneous groups make the findings and choice of treatment for individuals difficult to interpret. Finally, there are few studies overall, and the majority are case studies rather than controlled studies using multiple baseline designs or randomization and a control group. Careful studies are required in order to establish the relative efficacy of the behavioural techniques and their suitability with homogeneous subgroups of children with special needs.


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