Children with mental health problems usually face insomnia and are generally given sleep medication, says a new survey of child psychiatrists.
The results of the survey, conducted by Judith Owens, a sleep expert with Hasbro Children's Hospital, and colleagues, suggests that management of insomnia in this population is a common practice, although the clinical approach varies widely.
Nearly 1,300 members of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry completed a survey to examine the clinical practice patterns regarding non-prescription and prescription medication for insomnia by child and adolescent psychiatrists.
To address the issue, an overwhelming 96 percent of the clinicians recommended at least one prescription medication in a typical month and 88 percent recommended an over-the-counter medication.
The sleep medications prescribed ranged from antihistamines to sedating medications for Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such as alpha agonists (clonidine), to antidepressants like trazodone. They also included medications from a number of other categories, such as antipsychotics and anticonvulsants, depending on the psychiatric or behavioral diagnosis of the child.
Owens, who is also an associate professor at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University comments, "The most important rationale for the use of sleep medication among child psychiatrists is to manage the effects of sleep disruption on daytime functioning. It is important to note, however, that concerns about side effects and the lack of evidence regarding their effectiveness were cited as significant barriers to their use."
Owens adds, "Despite the high frequency of use and the wide range of medications chosen, practitioners also expressed a number of significant concerns about the appropriateness of sleep medication in general for children."
The respondents to the survey indicated that over 75 percent of the patients in their practices were children or adolescents and they saw an average of 70 children per month, the majority of whom were age 6 or older. The percentage of patients who were identified with insomnia was substantial and also increased with age. Overall, the results suggest that among children receiving psychiatric care, more than 20 percent of preschoolers and almost one-third of school-aged children and adolescents are affected by insomnia.
The authors point out that virtually all psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders in children - including depression, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders - can be associated with delayed sleep onset and sleep disruption and, as a result, with significant daytime sleepiness and fatigue that may further exacerbate psychiatric symptoms. Because of that, Owens says, "That is why child psychiatrists may be potentially more likely than pediatricians to prescribe medication for insomnia.The study is published in the August 2010 edition of Sleep Medicine.