Adolescence is a crucial time for physical development and self-discovery, but it may also be the most crucial time to monitor your child’s insomnia.
According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, children who slept for seven hours or less when they were about nine years old were more than two and a half times as likely to develop insomnia in young adulthood (age 24 on average) than those who slept normally during childhood. In comparison to teenagers who slept regularly, those who experienced insomnia during adolescence (average age 16) had a five and a half times increased likelihood of their symptoms progressing into adult insomnia.
The authors of the study claim that it is the first long-term study to use subjective and objective assessments to characterize the developmental trajectories of childhood insomnia symptoms into adulthood.
“We did not expect insomnia symptoms to persist in about 40% of (these) roughly 9-year-old children all the way through young adulthood once they were roughly 24 years old,” said Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, a clinical psychologist board-certified in behavioral sleep medicine and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine.
“That’s a substantially bigger proportion than previously thought,” Fernandez-Mendoza wrote in an email. “At least in a considerable number of children, we shouldn’t expect childhood insomnia symptoms to go away (remit) as they grow up. Adolescence should be viewed as a vital developmental period for insomnia symptoms to intensify and develop into a… chronic clinical disorder.”
Using polysomnography, a test that records brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing, and leg and eye movements during sleep, researchers observed participants’ sleep from “lights out” — 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. — till “lights on” — 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. All of the individuals in the third study, which took place between 2018 and 2021, had reached maturity and reported sleeping between three and a half and eleven hours each day.
Children’s sleep vulnerability
The authors concluded that persistent insomnia symptoms in the transition to adolescence were largely determined by behavioral variables or being more biologically vulnerable throughout the adolescent growth period.
Insomniacs tend to stay in bed too long or do things in bed that aren’t related to sleeping, according to Fernandez-Mendoza. “However, hyperarousal, which is defined as a physiologic imbalance of stress symptoms and the brain areas that control arousal/wakefulness,” he noted, is one of the main insomnia reasons.
This sort of hyperarousal is commonly found in adolescents. Other factors that influence insomnia symptoms include gender, race or ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
Managing and treating the signs and symptoms of insomnia
The study stresses the need of dealing with childhood insomnia “as soon as possible” and “trying to get on top of the factors that may be causing insomnia or poor sleep,” according to Dr. Robin Lloyd, a Mayo Clinic pediatric sleep medicine physician who wasn’t involved in the research. “Insomnia is associated with both physical and emotional health issues,” Lloyd explained.
“People with more mental health issues tend to have more sleep troubles, and people with more sleep issues are likely to have more mental health issues.” Focusing on “healthy habits and behaviors that we can control, especially in childhood and adolescence,” Lloyd says, “can only produce good behaviors and positive habits as an adult.”
It’s not OK, Lloyd remarked, to have a teenager who is always exhausted. Don’t think they’re just bad sleepers; they could be tired due to a sleep condition, a circadian rhythm disorder, or mental health concerns that interfere with sleep. These indicators should be addressed right away by parents, schools, and pediatricians.
“Always consult your doctor and, if applicable, your behavioral health practitioner,” Fernandez-Mendoza said. There are “evidence-based, safe behavioral interventions that are successful and can be performed under the supervision of a qualified clinician to help their children sleep independently without bedtime resistance or the need for a parent to sleep in the room,” according to the study.
CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia) is the most effective treatment for adults suffering from insomnia “It’s the first-line treatment for insomnia, and it’s gaining popularity among teenagers. Many of us, as scientists and practitioners, use CBT-I to treat insomnia in adolescents with minor changes “He went on to say “It’s best to start treating it as soon as possible. As a last resort, sleep medicines should be used.”
Controlling technology usage, or screen time is one of the most crucial tips. “I’ve had narcoleptic youngsters remark, ‘Oh, as long as I have a screen in front of me, I’m awake,'” Lloyd explained.
“This is a powerful statement. How is it affecting (those without narcolepsy’s sleep) if they’re so alerting that even someone with narcolepsy may be alerted and not doze off while watching a screen?” Lloyd suggested adhering to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for limiting screen time by establishing a cutoff time that allows children’s minds to relax while avoiding technology exposure that might decrease melatonin, a sleep hormone. Both children and young people require good sleep hygiene.
It entails keeping a regular sleep pattern and sleeping in a calm, dark, and cold environment. Because insomnia and insufficient sleep due to educational obligations can have a long-term impact, school systems should consider allowing students to start classes later in the morning to work with their natural circadian rhythms, as suggested by AAP recommendations for school start times, Lloyd added.