Persistent symptoms of insomnia since childhood associated with mood and anxiety disorders

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Sleep Disorders | Sleep Review

A 15-year longitudinal study shows that insomnia symptoms in children that persist into adulthood are powerful determinants of mood and anxiety disorders in young adults. The research abstract was recently published in an online supplement to Sleep magazine and will be presented as an oral presentation on Sunday June 13th during Virtual SLEEP 2021.

The results show that symptoms of insomnia that persisted from childhood through adolescence to adulthood were associated with a 2.8-fold increased risk of internalizing disorders. New symptoms of insomnia during 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 in the children in whom symptoms of insomnia subsided during the study period.

“We found that around 40% of children fail to overcome their insomnia symptoms in the transition into adolescence and develop mental disorders later in early adulthood,” says lead author Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, who has a PhD in psychobiology and is Associate Professor at the Penn State College of Medicine. He is a certified behavioral sleep medicine psychologist board at Penn State Health Sleep Research and Treatment Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The data were analyzed by the Penn State Child Cohort, a population-based sample of 700 children with a mean age of 9 years. The researchers had followed up 8 years later with 421 teenage participants (mean age 16 years) and now 15 years later with 492 of them as young adults (mean age 24 years). Insomnia symptoms were defined as moderate to severe difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep.

Symptoms were reported by parents 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 of mood and / or anxiety disorders. Results were adjusted for gender, race / ethnicity, age, and any history of internalizing disorders or use of medication for mental health problems.

According to the authors, insomnia symptoms in children have been shown to be associated with internalizing disorders, which include depressive disorders and anxiety disorders. “These new results further show that early sleep interventions are warranted to prevent future mental health problems because children whose insomnia symptoms improved over time were less likely than young adults to develop a mood or anxiety disorder,” says Fernandez-Mendoza.

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