Sleep

Sleep problems in early childhood linked to teens' mental health issues

  • A number of sleep problems in childhood can point towards psychological problems in adolescence
  • For example, less sleep at night and going to bed later is associated with borderline personality disorder
  • Sleep can, however, be influenced with effective, early interventions


Teens who had sleep problems as babies or tots may be at risk for mental health disorders, a new study suggests.

Researchers analysed data from more than 13 000 people who were part of a British study in the 1990s. Their parents reported their sleep behaviour six times between the ages of six months and 5.8 years.

Those who had irregular sleep routines from six months on and who often woke at night at 18 months of age were more likely to experience psychotic episodes as teens, the study found.

Problems in adolescence

Getting less sleep at night and going to bed later at age 3.5 was associated with borderline personality disorder during adolescence, according to the University of Birmingham study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

"We know from previous research that persistent nightmares in children have been associated with both psychosis and borderline personality disorder. But nightmares do not tell the whole story – we've found that, in fact, a number of behavioural sleep problems in childhood can point towards these problems in adolescence," said lead researcher Isabel Morales-Muñoz, an honorary research fellow at the university.

Senior author Steven Marwaha, a professor of psychiatry, said brain and hormone changes make adolescence a key period for studying the onset of mental disorders.

"It's crucial to identify risk factors that might increase the vulnerability of adolescents to the development of these disorders, identify those at high risk, and deliver effective interventions," he said, adding that the study helps explain what those risk factors might be.

"Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors – and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links," Marwaha said.

Image credit: iStock

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