Insomnia in Kids Tied to Mood, Anxiety Disorders in Adulthood

Megan Brooks

June 15, 2021

Insomnia in childhood persists into adulthood and may raise the risk for internalizing disorders in young adults, new research indicates.

However, insomnia symptoms in childhood that remit in the transition to adolescence do not confer increased risk of mood or anxiety disorders later on, the study found.

"As insomnia symptoms may precipitate or maintain internalizing disorders, our findings further reinforce the need for early sleep interventions to prevent future mental health disorders," said lead investigator Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, PhD, associate professor at Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

He presented his research at Virtual SLEEP 2021, the 35th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Results "Very Clear"

The findings are based on data from the Penn State Child Cohort, a longitudinal, population-based sample of 700 children with a median age of 9 years, including 421 who were followed up 8 years later as adolescents (median age, 16 years) and 502 who were followed up 15 years later as young adults (median age, 24 years).

The data are "very clear that the risk of having internalizing disorders in young adulthood associated with having persistent insomnia symptoms, since childhood through adolescence into young adulthood," Fernandez-Mendoza said in his presentation.

A persistent developmental trajectory was associated with a threefold increased risk of adult internalizing disorder (hazard ratio [HR], 3.19).

The risk of having an internalizing disorder in young adulthood associated with newly developing (incident) insomnia symptoms is about twofold higher (HR, 1.94), whereas the risk associated with the waxing and waning pattern of insomnia is 1.5-fold (HR, 1.53) higher and only marginally significant, he reported.

An equally important finding, said Fernandez-Mendoza, is that those who had remitted insomnia symptoms in the transition to adolescence and throughout young adulthood were not at increased risk of having an internalizing disorder in young adulthood.

"Insomnia symptoms in a persistent manner associated with long-term adverse mental health outcomes, but remission of those insomnia symptoms associated with a good prognosis," he said.

It's also important to note, he said, that about 40% of children do not outgrow their insomnia symptoms in the transition to adolescence and are at risk of developing mental health disorders later on during early adulthood.

Reached for comment, Nitun Verma, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said: "There is a connection with mood and anxiety disorders with sleep, especially insomnia. This is a good reminder that reviewing someone's sleep habits should always be a part of assessing someone's mental health."

Virtual SLEEP 2021: 35th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies: Abstract 327. Presented June 11, 2021.

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