Study emphasizes importance of early interventions to address insomnia symptoms in children
DARIEN, IL – A 15-year longitudinal study shows that childhood insomnia symptoms that persist into adulthood are strong determinants of mood and anxiety disorders in young adults.
Results show that insomnia symptoms persisting from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood were associated with a 2.8-fold increased risk of internalizing disorders. Insomnia symptoms that newly developed over the course of the study were associated with a 1.9-fold increased risk of internalizing disorders. No increased risk of internalizing disorders was found for those children in whom insomnia symptoms remitted during the study period.
“We found that about 40% of children do not outgrow their insomnia symptoms in the transition to adolescence and are at risk of developing mental health disorders later on during early adulthood,” said lead author Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, who has a doctorate in psychobiology and is an associate professor at Penn State College of Medicine. He is a psychologist board certified in behavioral sleep medicine at Penn State Health Sleep Research and Treatment Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Data were analyzed from the Penn State Child Cohort, a population-based sample of 700 children with a median age of 9 years. The researchers had followed up 8 years later with 421 participants when they were adolescents (median age of 16 years) and now 15 years later with 492 of them when they were young adults (median age of 24 years). Insomnia symptoms were defined as moderate-to-severe difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep.
The symptoms were parent-reported in childhood and self-reported in adolescence and young adulthood. The presence of internalizing disorders was defined as a self-report of a diagnosis or treatment for mood and/or anxiety disorders. Results were adjusted for sex, race/ethnicity, age, and any prior history of internalizing disorders or use of medications for mental health problems.
According to the authors, childhood insomnia symptoms have been shown to be associated with internalizing disorders, which include depressive disorders and anxiety disorders. “These new findings further indicate that early sleep interventions are warranted to prevent future mental health problems, as children whose insomnia symptoms improved over time were not at increased risk of having a mood or anxiety disorder as young adults,” said Fernandez-Mendoza.
The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented as an oral presentation on Sunday, June 13, during Virtual SLEEP 2021. SLEEP is the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.
This study was supported by funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. For a copy of the abstract, “Developmental Trajectories of Insomnia and Risk of Internalizing Disorders in Young Adulthood,” or to arrange an interview with the study author or an AASM spokesperson, please contact AASM Communications Coordinator Corinne Lederhouse at 630-737-9700, ext. 9366, or [email protected]
About the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Established in 1975, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) is advancing sleep care and enhancing sleep health to improve lives. The AASM has a combined membership of 11,000 accredited member sleep centers and individual members, including physicians, scientists and other health care professionals (aasm.org).
About the Sleep Research Society
The Sleep Research Society (SRS) is a professional membership society that advances sleep and circadian science. The SRS provides forums for the exchange of information, establishes and maintains standards of reporting and classifies data in the field of sleep research, and collaborates with other organizations to foster scientific investigation on sleep and its disorders. The SRS also publishes the peer-reviewed, scientific journals Sleep and Sleep Advances (sleepresearchsociety.org).
Related Journal Article