Children with insomnia likely to continue to suffer as adults

Children with insomnia symptoms are likely to carry them through young adulthood and are significantly more likely to develop an insomnia disorder in early adulthood compared to children who do not have difficulty sleeping, according to a Penn State College of Medicine study. It was the first long-term cohort study to describe the developmental trajectories of childhood insomnia symptoms through adolescence and into young adulthood.

March 15, 2022Penn State College of Medicine News

“Young adulthood is a stage in life where there is a documented increase in the severity and prevalence of physical and mental health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and suicide rates,” said Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health. “Sleep disorders — especially sleep apnea and insomnia — are linked with poorer cardiovascular and mental health. Given that up to 25% of children, 35% of adolescents and 45% of young adults suffer from insomnia symptoms, we were interested in learning how these symptoms evolve over time as the child grows into adulthood.”

The team’s study, which began in 2000, was designed as a random, population-based study of children, ages 5-12 years. Children and their parents provided reports of the children’s insomnia symptoms — defined as moderate-to-severe difficulties initiating and/or maintaining sleep. The children also participated in an in-laboratory sleep study. The team found that 43% of children with insomnia symptoms continued to suffer through adolescence into adulthood. The results of their study published Feb. 17 in the journal Pediatrics.

“The key finding of this study is that insomnia symptoms in childhood are much more likely to persist over time than we previously believed,” Fernandez-Mendoza said. “Those with insomnia symptoms and laboratory-measured short sleep duration are much more likely to develop a clinical condition in early adulthood, and not just to persist with the symptoms. So, parents and clinicians should not assume that insomnia symptoms are benign complaints that will go away with age. That’s not what our study shows for a significant proportion of youth.”

Read more about the study on Penn State News

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