To examine screening strategies for identifying problematic infant sleep in a diverse sample.
Parents of infants (5–19 months; N = 3,271) presenting for a primary care visit responded to five screening items and the Infant Sleep Questionnaire (ISQ), a validated measure of problematic infant sleep. If parents responded affirmatively to any screening item, primary care providers received a prompt to evaluate. For each of the screening questions, we examined differences in item endorsement and criterion related validity with the ISQ. Using conceptual composites of night waking and sleep difficulty, prevalence, criterion-related validity, and concurrent demographic correlates were analyzed.
Infants were primarily of Black race (50.1%) or Hispanic ethnicity (31.7%), with the majority (63.3%) living in economically distressed communities. Rates of problematic sleep ranged from 7.4%, for a single item assessing parental perception of an infant having a sleep problem, to 74.0%, for a single item assessing night wakings requiring adult intervention. Items assessing sleep difficulty had high (95.0–97.8%) agreement with the ISQ in identifying infants without problematic sleep, but low agreement (24.9–34.0%) in identifying those with problematic sleep. The opposite was true for items assessing night waking, which identified 91.0–94.6% of those with sleep problems but only 31.8–46.9% of those without.
Screening strategies for identifying problematic infant sleep yielded highly variable prevalence rates and associated factors, depending on whether the strategy emphasized parent-perceived sleep difficulty or night wakings. The strategy that is most appropriate will depend on the system’s goals.