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07 April 2021

An analysis of sleep health in children has found Indigenous Australian children suffer disproportionately from sleep problems.

James Cook University Senior Research Fellow at the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health Dr Yaqoot Fatima was part of a team of researchers to analyse 13 studies on sleep problems in more than 4600 Indigenous children aged up to 17-years-old.

“Health disparities for Indigenous children include higher rates of obesity, diabetes and respiratory problems. School attendance rates are 10 per cent lower than for non-Indigenous students, with higher levels of academic underachievement," Dr Fatima said.

“As poor sleep shares a relationship with these health problems and gaps in education, it is important to put sleep health into this context."

She said insomnia symptoms in Indigenous children varied in the studies from 15 per cent to 34.7 per cent. Indigenous children reported severe daytime sleepiness (20 per cent), short sleep (10.9 per cent) and late sleeping (50 per cent).

Snoring was reported in 14.2% of children in a community study, with a sleep laboratory-based study suggesting this prevalence was up to 85 per cent.

“Compared with non-indigenous children, Indigenous children are significantly more likely to experience short sleep duration, and a high proportion reported symptoms of sleep disordered breathing,” Dr Fatima said.

She said there was a lack of nationwide data on the prevalence of sleep problems but there is some evidence to suggest Indigenous children suffer disproportionately from sleep health issues and that there are both social and biological determinants that play a role.

“Access to sleep health care is lacking for Indigenous children. Data from sleep clinics show Indigenous Australians attend at the rate of 31 per 100,000 people while the rate for non-indigenous people is 575 per 100,000,” Dr Fatima said.

She said timely access and availability of services and follow-up are currently major barriers to treatment.

“When appropriate services do become available, significant proportions of Indigenous patients are found to be compliant with treatment plans and have derived significant benefits from treatment,” said Dr Fatima.

Read more about this research here:

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