Children who have trouble sleeping are at an increased risk for having insomnia as adults, Penn State College of Medicine researchers have found.
Researchers estimated that 25% of children have trouble going to or staying asleep. Their study explored how those sleep problems in children can continue later in life.
The 21-year study followed 700 children between 5 and 12 years old. For children with symptoms of insomnia, only 11% of their symptoms had stopped as adults. Almost half of the children with insomnia — 43% — continued to have sleeping problems into adulthood.
How ‘Short Sleep’ Plays a Role
The odds of the children’s insomnia worsening into adulthood increased if they were “short sleepers.” The Centers for Disease Control defines short sleep for children ages 6 to 12 as sleeping less than nine hours a night. Short sleep in teens ages 13 to 17 is sleeping less than eight hours a night.
- Short-sleeping children were more than twice as likely to have insomnia as adults.
- Short-sleeping teens were more than five times as likely to have insomnia as adults.
Almost half of children with insomnia — 43% — continued to have sleeping problems into adulthood, researchers say.
Dr. Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, a researcher involved with the study, says that parents should not expect their child’s insomnia symptoms to disappear with age. He suggests that identifying short sleep in children and teens can help determine if they have an increased risk of developing insomnia as an adult.
What Parents Can Do
Parents can work with a pediatrician to rule out issues that may cause sleep problems. Headaches, digestion issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety can contribute to insomnia. Managing these issues may help improve sleep habits.
Researchers say that sleep is a behavior that we can try to control. Insomnia symptoms can result from behavioral factors, such as bedtime resistance or needing a parent to fall asleep after waking up at night.
Having regular bedtime routines can help improve a child’s sleep. These routines may start 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime with calming activities like a warm bath, journaling, reading, or meditating. Other strategies that support good sleep include putting away electronic devices, listening to calming music, stretching, or doing deep-breathing exercises.
“We learn how and when to sleep, and parents should serve as role models for adequate sleep behaviors,” Dr. Fernandez-Mendoza says. “Like heart health and brain health, sleep health is the next frontier in public health prevention.”
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