Study: Children with insomnia at higher risk for sleep problems as adults

Young girl with insomnia tries to fall asleep in bed.

Researchers are reporting new evidence that children with insomnia are at higher risk of sleep problems as adults. The study reveals that the persistence of insomnia symptoms is greater than previously believed and underscores the importance of early interventions to address sleep problems.  

Sleep disorders, such as insomnia, are linked to poorer cardiovascular and mental health, researchers say. But there’s limited knowledge of how insomnia symptoms evolve over time. 
To find out, researchers conducted a 15-year longitudinal study involving 502 children, who started the study when they were around 9 years old. The researchers followed them 7.5 years later as adolescents and 15 years later as adults. The researchers looked at the severity of their insomnia symptoms, defined as moderate-to-severe difficulties initiating and/or maintaining sleep, and how the symptoms changed over time. The patients were subjected to in-lab measurements of insomnia in addition to self-reports. 

The researchers found that 43% of children with insomnia symptoms continued to suffer through adolescence into adulthood. About 27% experienced remission of their symptoms by adolescence, but close to 19% had a waxing and waning pattern of insomnia into adulthood.  They also studied children who were initially without insomnia symptoms. About 15% of these developed insomnia symptoms in the transition from childhood to adolescence and it persisted with them into adulthood, and another 21% first developed insomnia symptoms in young adulthood.  

The study is the first long-term cohort study to describe the developmental trajectories of childhood insomnia symptoms through adolescence into young adulthood, the researchers said. It was funded in part by NHLBI and appeared in the journal Pediatrics