A new study has found that serious sleep disorders in young children can have long-term consequences, revealing a clear correlation between sleep problems and psychiatric issues in children.
Four-year-olds with sleep disorders have a higher risk of developing symptoms of psychiatric problems as six-year-olds, compared with children who sleep soundly.
Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor and psychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), said that their research shows that it is important to identify children with sleep disorders, so that remedial measures can be taken. Sleeping badly or too little affects a child’s day-to-day functioning, but we are seeing that there are also long term repercussions.
The NTNU researchers conducted diagnostic interviews with the parents of the children participating in the study. The interview was based on the DSM-IV diagnostic manual, which contains the official diagnostic criteria for mental disorders.
Over 1,000 four-year-olds participated in the study and parents of around 800 of these children were interviewed again two years later. A child who shows signs of anxiety or a behavioral disorder may easily end up in a vicious cycle, where conflict with adults triggers anxiety and in turn leads to trouble falling asleep.
Steinsbekk pointed out that given that so many children suffer from insomnia, and only just over half ‘outgrow it’, it is critical for us to be able to provide thorough identification and good treatment.
Steinsbekk stressed that the early treatment of mental health problems can also prevent the development of sleep disorders, since psychiatric symptoms increase the risk of developing insomnia.
Children who suffer from insomnia struggle with falling asleep and frequent waking. Examples of other types of sleep disorders are hypersomnia, i.e. an extreme urge to sleep, and various cases of parasomnia, such as nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking.
The study appeared in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.