Specific sleep problems among babies and very young children can be linked to mental disorders in adolescents, a new study has found.
A team at the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology studied questionnaire data from the UK-based Children of the 90s study that recruited pregnant mothers of 14,000 babies when it was set up almost three decades ago.
They found that frequent waking during the night and irregular sleep routines in early childhood were associated with psychotic experiences as adolescents. They also found that children who slept for shorter periods at night and went to bed later were more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) during their teenage years.
The findings, published in JAMA Psychiatry, support existing evidence that insomnia contributes to psychosis, but suggest that these difficulties may be present years before psychotic experiences occur.
The researchers investigated whether the links between infant sleep and mental disorders in teenagers could be mediated by symptoms of depression in children aged 10 years. They found that depression mediated the links between childhood sleep problems and the onset of psychosis in adolescents, but this mediation was not observed in BPD, suggesting the existence of a direct association between sleep problems and BPD symptoms.
Lead researcher, Dr Isabel Morales-Muñoz, explained: “We know from previous research that persistent nightmares in children have been associated with both psychosis and borderline personality disorder. 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.”