Parental Insomnia Can Harm Adolescent Children

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By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 12 (HealthDay News) -- Adolescent children of parents who suffer from chronic insomnia have a higher risk not only for insomnia themselves, but also for suicidal behavior and for using drugs that induce sleep.

If parents have insomnia, health-care workers or teachers may need to focus on the children, because they are at risk for suicidal behavior and other problems, added study author Dr. Xianchen Liu, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Liu was expected to present his findings Thursday at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, in Baltimore.

"It means we can do interventions or prevention for these children at risk," he added.

"If there is a family history of insomnia, we probably need to be looking at treating the whole family entity, parents as well, to make an impact on the children," said Donna Arand, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and clinical director of Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio.

"We take a [family] history, but when we're treating, our focus is usually on the patient we have in front of us and work at that level," Arand said, adding that only a few research studies have focused on offspring of people with insomnia.

Yet insomnia, which refers to a number of sleep disturbances including trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early, does seem to have a familial component and is also a very prevalent sleep disorder. According to the sleep academy, some 30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia, while less than 10 percent have chronic insomnia.

For this study, 450 boys and 348 girls, mean age just over 14, completed a sleep and health questionnaire. Both children of insomniacs and non-insomniacs were included.

Children of insomniac parents were almost three times more likely to report symptoms of insomnia themselves, more than twice as likely to report fatigue, and more than five times as likely to report using hypnotic drugs.

Even more troubling, almost 17 percent of children with parents who had insomnia reported suicidal ideation (thoughts and behavior), 9.5 percent reported suicide plans, and 9.5 percent reported actual suicide attempts during the past year. This compared to 5.3 percent, 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively, of teens whose parents did not suffer from insomnia.

"We have known just in the last year or so that having insomnia makes that individual at high risk for major depression later in life, but this is, to my knowledge, the first time we've looked at offspring and realized we have a significant problem," Arand said.

A second study also reported at the meeting showed an association between sleeping problems and suicidal behavior in children and adolescents with depressive disorders.

Researchers at Sao Paulo University in Brazil found that 83.8 percent of children and adolescents in the study, all of whom had bipolar or unipolar disorder, had sleep disturbances. There was a strong link between sleep disturbances and suicidal behavior.

Experts recommend that adolescents get nine hours of sleep a night and that younger, school-aged children get 10 to 11 hours every evening.

More information

Visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for more on insomnia.