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Adult Insomnia Tied to Childhood Behavioral Problems

A new study has found a link between childhood behavioral problems and insomnia later in life.

For the study, researchers at Flinders University in Australia analyzed data from a long-running U.K. population study and found an association between moderate to severe childhood behavioral problems and insomnia in adults by the age of 42.

“This study shows a consistent association of behavioral problems during childhood, particularly at ages 5 and 10 years, with insomnia symptoms in adulthood,” said Dr. Robert Adams, a professor of respiratory and sleep medicine at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health (AISH), a leading Australian research center, and senior author of the study.

“The findings suggest that early intervention to manage children’s externalized behaviors, such as bullying, irritability or constant restlessness, may reduce the risk of adult insomnia,” he said. “As well as identifying sleep problems early in life, we should also identify children with moderate to severe behavioral problems that persist through childhood as potential beneficiaries of early intervention with a sleep health focus.”

The United Kingdom 1970 Birth Cohort Study is a large-scale study of more than 16,000 babies born in a single week. The Australian researchers’ study includes people from the cohort aged 5 (8,550 participants), 10 (9,090 people) and 16 years (7,653) followed up to age 42.

The Flinders University study focused on externalized behavioral problems reported by parents, including cases of restlessness, disobedience, fighting, bullying, property damage and theft, and irritability.

“This study is the first, to our knowledge, to suggest an unfavorable association between early-life behavioral problems in children and addressing insomnia from a life-long perspective,” said Dr. Yohannes Adama Melaku, lead author. “Given the cost of sleep disorders, including insomnia, to every economy and society in the world, it’s another important step towards managing this endemic problem in the community.”

“This first study is important because we don’t know exactly the childhood or early-life factors that potentially influence this outcome of insomnia and finding these connections could reduce sleep disorders in the future,” he added.

The research team’s next study will focus on the effect of maternal smoking during pregnancy and childhood and any impact on insomnia and related sleep issues in adults.

The study was published in the JAMA Network Open journal.

Source: Flinders University

Adult Insomnia Tied to Childhood Behavioral Problems

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2019). Adult Insomnia Tied to Childhood Behavioral Problems. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 10 Sep 2019 (Originally: 10 Sep 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 10 Sep 2019
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