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Child Sleep Problems May Be Linked to Depression or Anxiety

Sleep problems among children may result purely from poor sleep habits and inadequate sleep hygiene. However, for a small percentage of children, sleep problems might represent a pre-cursor or early symptom of anxiety and depression.

A new study, authored by Flavia Giannotti, MD, of Center of Pediatric Sleep Disorders at the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy, reviewed 122 children between seven and 11 years of age, who had a major depressive disorder.

All patients underwent a systematic psychiatric, cognitive and sleep evaluation. All children were medication-free. Depressed children, as well as those presenting a comorbid anxious disorder, entered the study, and their results were compared to those of 200 healthy peers.

According to the results, 82 percent of the depressed children reported a problematic sleep, compared to five percent of healthy controls. In the depressed group, 42 percent of comorbid children showed a significantly higher frequency of sleep onset insomnia, compared to 29 percent of the non-comorbid group.

They scored significantly higher on the “bedtime difficulties”, “sleep anxiety”, and “sleep duration” portions of the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire than the non-comorbid group.

Comorbid and non-comorbid depressed children showed a significant tendency to a later bedtime (50 minutes) and a more markedly fragmented sleep than controls (35 minutes). Twenty percent of comorbid depressed children shared their parents’ bed (20 percent), compared to 17 percent of non-comorbid and five percent of healthy controls.

“Sleep problems are very common in typically developing children. Even though they are more frequent in toddlers and preschoolers, they affect also school-aged children. What was most interesting about this study was the finding that certain types of comorbid conditions might be especially disruptive on sleep.

“Therefore, in childhood, considerable attention needs to be paid to the interrelation between sleep patterns and emotional disorders. To ensure the most effective care, parents of sleep-disturbed children are advised to first consult with the child’s pediatrician, who may issue a referral to a sleep specialist for comprehensive testing and treatment,” said Dr. Giannotti.

It is recommended that school-aged children get between 10-11 hours of nightly sleep.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) offers some tips to help your child sleep better:

    • Follow a consistent bedtime routine. Set aside 10 to 30 minutes to get your child ready to go to sleep each night.
    • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
    • Interact with your child at bedtime. Don’t let the TV, computer or video games take your place.
    • Keep your children from TV programs, movies, and video games that are not right for their age.
    • Do not let your child fall asleep while being held, rocked, fed a bottle, or while nursing.
    • At bedtime, do not allow your child to have foods or drinks that contain caffeine. This includes chocolate and sodas. Try not to give him or her any medicine that has a stimulant at bedtime. This includes cough medicines and decongestants.

It is important to make sure that your child gets enough sleep and sleeps well. The value of sleep can be measured by your child’s smiling face, happy nature and natural energy. A tired child may have development or behavior problems. A child’s sleep problems can also cause unnecessary stress for you and the other members of your family.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Child Sleep Problems May Be Linked to Depression or Anxiety

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Child Sleep Problems May Be Linked to Depression or Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.