The aim of this study was to examine the effect of age, gender and perinatal risk factors on the risks for sleep problems, and investigate the relation between childhood sleep problems and children's behavioral syndromes and parental mental distress in early and middle childhood. We recruited a representative sample of 1391 children, ages 4-9, from nine kindergartens and three elementary schools by using a multistage sampling method. Parents of child participants completed a questionnaire including perinatal risk factors, sleep habits and problems, the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and the Chinese Health Questionnaire (CHQ). A mixed model was used for data analysis to address cluster effect from the same classes and schools. Results showed that boys suffered from more sleep problems than girls. Early insomnia, sleep terrors and enuresis decreased with ages, but sleepwalking increased with ages. Perinatal exposure to alcohol, coffee and non-prescribed medication, vaginal bleeding, artificial delivery, first-born order and higher parental CHQ score (> or =4) were significantly associated with several childhood sleep problems. In addition, children with sleep problems had higher T-scores of the eight behavioral syndromes derived from the CBCL. Our findings indicated that the childhood sleep problems were associated with perinatal risk factors, parental psychopathology and children's behavioral problems.