Infant sleep problems linked to mental health issues in adolescents

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London– Researchers have found that sleeping problems in early childhood may be linked to the development of certain mental health disorders in adolescence.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found that young children who routinely woke up frequently during the night and experienced irregular sleep routines were associated with psychotic experiences as adolescents. The researchers also found that children who slept for shorter periods at night and went to bed later were more likely to be associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD) during their teenage years.

“We know from previous research that persistent nightmares in children have been associated with both psychosis and borderline personality disorder,” said study lead author Dr Isabel Morales-Muaoz from the University of Birmingham in the UK. “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,” Morales-Muaoz added.

For the findings, the researchers examined questionnaire data from more than 7,000 participants reporting on psychotic symptoms in adolescence, and more than 6,000 reporting on BPD symptoms in adolescence. Sleep behaviour among participants was reported by parents when the children were six, 18 and 30 months, and assessed again at 3.5, 4.8 and 5.8 years old.

The results show particular associations between infants at 18 months old who tended to wake more frequently at night and who had less regular sleep routines from six months old, with psychotic experiences in adolescence. This supports existing evidence that insomnia contributes to psychosis, but suggests that these difficulties may be already present years before psychotic experiences occur.

The team also found that children who had less sleep during the night and went to bed later at the age of three-and-a-half years were related to BPD symptoms. The researchers also investigated whether the links between infant sleep and mental disorders in teenagers could be mediated by symptoms of depression in children aged 10 years old.

“We found that depression mediated the links between childhood sleep problems and the onset of psychosis in adolescents,” the study authors wrote. (IANS)

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