A new study suggests an association between sleep problems in childhood and mental functioning in early adolescence.

Dr. Alice M. Gregory, at the University of London, UK, and colleagues analyzed data on 1,037 children to assess parent-rated sleep problems during childhood (at ages 5, 7 and 9) and the children's performance on mental tests when they were 13 years old.

Persistent sleep problems during childhood predicted relatively poor scores on tests that measured the time it took the young teens to complete an effortful processing task, and their ability to inhibit overlearned behavior.

"These results were substantively replicated when sleep was assessed at the 5- and 9-year (but not 7-year) assessments separately," the investigators report in the medical journal Pediatrics.

Their findings suggest that sleep problems should be routinely assessed in children, they add.

"Once identified, sleep problems should be addressed," the team advises. Treatment of conditions such as sleep apnea or wake-sleep problems can lead to improved grades and better mental functioning overall.