A 'twofold to fivefold' increase in personal problems, has been reported by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, in adolescents who suffer from chronic insomnia.
Insomnia is a sleeping disorder characterized by persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep despite the opportunity. It is typically followed by functional impairment while awake. Insomniacs have been known to complain about being unable to close their eyes or "rest their mind" for more than a few minutes at a time.
The research team said that they have completed the first prospective study demonstrating the negative impact of chronic insomnia on 11 to 17 year olds.
The study, based on interviews with 3,134 adolescents, revealed that more than one fourth of the youths had one or more symptoms of insomnia and almost half of these youngsters had chronic conditions.
"Insomnia is both common and chronic among adolescents," said lead author Robert E. Roberts, Ph.D., a professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health.
"The data indicate that the burden of insomnia is comparable to that of other psychiatric disorders such as mood, anxiety, disruptive and substance abuse disorders. Chronic insomnia severely impacts future health and functioning of youths," he added.
In the study, the researchers measured 14 aspects of personal wellbeing and found that adolescents with chronic insomnia were much more likely to have problems with drug use, depression, school work, jobs and perceived health.
The study involved adolescents enrolled in health maintenance organizations who were screened for sleep problems and issues affecting physical health, psychological health and interpersonal relationships at the beginning and end of a 12-month-period. The initial screening was in 2000 and the follow up evaluation in 2001.
"Almost half of the adolescents who reported one or more symptoms of insomnia during the initial screening had similar issues a year later," Roberts said.
In the initial screening, 27 percent had one of more symptoms of insomnia, 7 percent had one or more symptoms of insomnia plus daytime fatigue or sleepiness or both, and 5 percent met the DSM clinical diagnosis criteria, which attempts to rule out other psychiatric disorders, as well as the effects of alcohol, drugs or medication, which can be confused with chronic insomnia.
Roberts said adolescents with chronic insomnia were more likely to seek medical care.
"These data suggest that primary care settings might provide a venue for screening and early intervention of adolescent insomnia," he said.
The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.