Researchers at the Center of Pediatric Sleep Disorders at the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy, have found that children suffering from depression and anxiety disorders have more sleep problems.
The study suggests that for a small percentage of children, sleep problems might represent a pre-cursor or early symptom of a more serious emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression.
The study, authored by Flavia Giannotti, MD, was conducted on 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," said Dr. Giannotti.
"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," she added.
The findings will be presented at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).