Associations Between Sleep Problems and Behavior Problems from Ages 4 to 15

Alice M. Gregory and Thomas G. O’Connor (2002) investigated associations between sleep problems and behavior problems in children participating in the Colorado Adoption Project.

The CBCL was completed by adoptive parents of 245 children and biological parents of 245 children at ages 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 years. Scores on 6 CBCL items pertaining to sleep were summed to measure sleep problems. Although sleep problems declined significantly with age, there was a significant predictive correlation of .29 from CBCL sleep problems scores at age 4 to sleep problems scores in mid-adolescence.

Sleep problems scores at age 4 also predicted CBCL Anxious/Depressed, Attention Problems, and Aggressive Behavior syndrome scores in mid-adolescence in multiple regression equations that controlled for adoptive status, gender, and the stability of behavioral/emotional problems. In addition to predicting behavioral/emotional problems over long developmental periods, sleep problems significantly correlated with concurrent CBCL syndrome scores at ages 4 to 15.

The correlation between sleep problems and Anxious/Depressed syndrome scores increased significantly from .39 at age 4 to .52 in mid-adolescence, whereas correlations of sleep problems with the other syndromes did not change significantly.

Because it was unclear whether the increases in later behavioral/emotional problems among children who had high early sleep problems scores were caused by the early sleep problems, Gregory and O’Connor concluded that “research on the treatment of sleep problems is needed to further elucidate the correlations between sleep problems and other behavioral/emotional problems” (p. 970).

Reference: Gregory, A.M. & O’Connor, T.G. (2002). Sleep problems in childhood: A longitudinal study of developmental change and association with behavioral problems. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 964-971.