Background: Treatment of sleep disorders in visually impaired children is complicated by a complex pathophysiology, a high incidence of sleep disorders in this population, and a dearth of management options. The significant impact on the health of these children and distress to their caregivers warrant a systematic assessment of the published literature on therapeutic approaches.
Objective: This systematic review aims to assess the current therapeutic options in the management of sleep disorders in visually impaired children to identify knowledge gaps and guide future research.
Methods: A search of primary literature was conducted using the bibliographic databases PubMed (1980-August 2010), EMBASE (1990-August 2010), Science Citation Index Expanded (1990-August 2010), and CINHAL (1992-August 2010) and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL). Additional studies were identified through snowballing search techniques (manually by searching retrieved references and electronically by using citation-tracking software). Search terms included behavioral treatment, children, circadian rhythm, hypnosedatives, intellectual disability, light therapy, melatonin, phototherapy, random allocation, randomized controlled trial (RCT), sleep disorder, and visual impairment. Randomized and quasi-randomized clinical trials of therapeutic options (behavioral treatment, light therapy, melatonin, or hypnosedatives) used in participants aged 3 months to 18 years who had both a visual impairment and a sleep disorder were included. Independent extraction of articles was performed by 2 authors using predefined data fields, including quality of the therapeutic options, based on the Strength of Recommendation Taxonomy evidence-rating system.
Results: Two RCTs were retrieved for melatonin, with improved effect on sleep latency (P = 0.019 and P < 0.05, respectively). However, separate analysis for visual impairment was not conducted. No RCTs were retrieved for behavioral intervention, light therapy, or hypnosedatives. Three studies using behavioral therapy (2 case reports and 1 case series) anecdotally showed improvement in sleep habit. No improvement in sleep rhythm was observed with a case series applying light therapy as an intervention.
Conclusions: Children with visual impairment and sleep disorders are a heterogeneous patient group, making diagnosis and treatment difficult. RCTs on treatment options remain in their infancy, with a lack of evidence for appropriate therapeutic strategies. Trials across a range of selected diagnoses need to be conducted with adequate sample populations to differentiate the efficacy of 4 different treatment modalities (behavioral therapy, light therapy, melatonin, and hypnosedatives) as agents for improving sleep.