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Childhood behavioral problems linked to severe insomnia in adulthood

A new study from Flinders University has identified a link between behavior problems in childhood and the development of severe insomnia in adulthood. The research suggests that parents should be addressing behavioral issues early on, as well as establishing a consistent sleep schedule. 

Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder among adults, and is estimated to affect nearly one in three people. Chronic insomnia is known to increase the risk of mental and physical health issues and may lead to economic consequences when an individual’s capacity to work suffers.

The Australian research team used data from a long-running population study to investigate a potential connection between childhood behavioral problems and insomnia in middle age. The United Kingdom 1970 Birth Cohort Study is a large-scale study of more than 16,000 babies born in a single week. 

The current investigation was focused on thousands of cohort participants aged 5, 10, and 16 years old, who were followed up on at age 42. For the UK study, externalized behavioral problems had been reported by parents, including disobedience, fighting, bullying, property damage, theft, and irritability.

Study senior author Robert Adams is a professor of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health (AISH).

“This study shows a consistent association of behavioral problems during childhood, particularly at ages 5 and 10 years, with insomnia symptoms in adulthood,” said Professor Adams. “The findings suggest that early intervention to manage children’s externalized behaviors, such as bullying, irritability or constant restlessness, may reduce the risk of adult insomnia.”

“As well as identifying sleep problems early in life, we should also identify children with moderate to severe behavioral problems that persist through childhood as potential beneficiaries of early intervention with a sleep health focus.”

Study lead author Dr. Yohannes Adama Melaku explained that the study is the first to highlight an unfavorable association between early-life behavioral problems in children and insomnia, as well as the first to address insomnia from a life-long perspective.

“Given the cost of sleep disorders, including insomnia, to every economy and society in the world, it’s another important step towards managing this endemic problem in the community,” said Dr. Melaku. ‘This first study is important because we don’t know exactly the childhood or early-life factors that potentially influence this outcome of insomnia and finding these connections could reduce sleep disorders in the future.”

The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Brian A Jackson

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