A recent study showed that severe sleep disorders in toddlers can have lingering effects on their mental health. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science of Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology conducted a study consisting of 1,000 toddlers, studying their sleeping patterns and how the children progressed. This study, published in the Journal of Development & Behavioral Pediatrics, shows that there is a reciprocal relationship between sleep disorders and mental health disorders.
The research indicated sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders correlated with each other interchangeably. According to the data, four-year-old children with sleep disorders have an increased risk of developing symptoms of mental health issues at six years of age, when compared to children who showed no sleeping problems. Alternatively, four-year-old children with symptoms of psychiatric problems have a higher risk of developing a sleep disorder at six years old when compared to the general population.
Silje Steinsbekk, a Psychologist in NTNU’s Department of Psychology says, “It is common for children to have periods when they sleep poorly, but for some children, the problems are so extensive that they constitute a sleep disorder. Our 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.”
Of the 1,000 four-year-old children who participated in the study, roughly 800 parents of said children were interviewed two years later.
Steinsbekk’s previous research on the relationship between sleep disorders and psychological problems in children has shown that four-year-old children with sleep disorders often also show symptoms of psychiatric problems. The study is part of a longitudinal study in Trondheim, Norway that analyzed the progression, occurrence and risk factors for the development of mental health issues in children. This project follows up with the parents of the children every other year.
Steinsbekk said, “Previous studies of sleep problems in children have mainly used a questionnaire format, with questions like, ‘Does your child have trouble sleeping?’ But what parents define as sleep problems will vary. In the diagnostic interview we ask parents questions until we are confident that we have enough information to assess whether a symptom is present or not. The information we’ve collected is more reliable than information obtained from the questionnaire.”
Results of the study indicated that insomnia is the most prevalent of sleep disorders — 16.6 percent of the four year olds surveyed were diagnosed with insomnia and 43 percent still had insomnia at six years of age. Insomnia in the four-year-old children also showed to increase the risk of symptoms of depression, ADHD, anxiety and other behavioral issues. Inversely, those with depression, anxiety, ADHD or behavioral problems displayed a higher risk of developing insomnia at six years of age.
One explanation for this reciprocal relationship between sleep and mental health is that problems with sleep can cause some impairment in cognition, increasing the likelihood of developing mental health issues. On the flip side, mental health issues can lead to problems in everyday functioning as well, which can cause problems with sleeping habits.
This reciprocal relationship between sleep and the development of mental health issues demonstrates a cyclical conflict in which poor sleep can increase the risks of mental health issues and vice versa. Steinsbekk states, “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. Perhaps early treatment of mental health problems can also prevent the development of sleep disorders, since psychiatric symptoms increase the risk of developing insomnia.” She stresses that further research is needed on this subject.
Mental health issues can cause serious issues like self-medication, lack of social participation and even self-harm. Sovereign Health Group helps those suffering from addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis conditions learn the tools they need to live life again. If you know someone in need of treatment, please do not hesitate to call. You may reach us at 888-530-4614. Our admissions helpline is open 24/7 and our treatment specialist will assist you in finding the right treatment option for your condition.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer