Research Review: Treating Sleep Problems in Young Children Important for Mental Health

Those of us who are parents know how important it is for our children to sleep.

After all, we have to deal with the misery of kids who refuse to nap, can’t fall asleep at night, or wake up too early in the morning. New research (Steinsbekk & Wichstrom, 2015) is demonstrating how important it is to identify and address sleep problems in young children – not just for the sanity of parents but also for the immediate and long-term mental health of the child.

Researchers in Norway examined the sleep of almost 1,000 toddlers and found that sleep disorders in young children have lasting consequences. They found that four-year-old children with sleep disorders have a significantly higher risk of psychiatric symptoms at six years of age as compared to children who sleep well. These sleep problems, such as getting too little sleep or poor quality sleep, cause functional problems immediately and over time including anxiety, ADHD, depression, and behavior problems. The researchers also found that young children with psychiatric symptoms are more likely to develop sleep disorders over time, which indicates that sleep and psychiatric problems are linked in multiple ways.

With approximately 16% of four year olds meeting the criteria for insomnia, identifying and treating sleep issues as early as possible is important for supporting mental health as the child ages. If your child has difficulty falling asleep, wakes up often during the night, has restless legs, is always tired despite getting sleep, has chronic nightmares or night terrors, or any other disruptive sleep issue get it checked out. Evaluating and treating sleep problems early just may prevent more severe problems later on.

Reference:

Steinsbekk, S. & Wichstrom, L. (2015). Stability of sleep disorders from preschool to first grade and their bidirectional relationship with psychiatric symptoms. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 36(4), 243-251. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000134

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