Childhood Behavioral Problems Linked to Adulthood Insomnia

Researchers have found a link between childhood behavioral problems and having insomnia as an adult. Their findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

In this cohort study, researchers utilized data they acquired from the United Kingdom 1970 Birth Control Study. All participants were followed-up from a baseline of either five-years-old (n=8,050), 10-years-old (n=9,090) or 16-years-old (n=7,653) until age 42 using the Rutter Behavioral Scale (RBS). Subsequently, all children’s behavior was classified as either normal (≤80th percentile), moderate behavioral problems (>80th to ≤95th percentile), and severe behavioral problems (>95th percentile) based on their RBS score. All missing data were imputed via multiple imputation.

The key endpoints of this study were defined as self-reported difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep (DIMS) collected using a self-administered questionnaire at 42 years of age. The researchers used log-binomial logistic regression, adjusted for several potential confounders, to estimate the link between childhood behavioral problems and adulthood insomnia symptoms. They used sensitivity analyses to assess the robustness of their findings. All study data were analyzed from February 1 to July 15, 2019.

Important to Address Insomnia Symptoms Early

According to the results of this study, there was a 39% higher risk of DIMS (OR=1.39; 95% CI, 1.04-1.84; P = .06 for trend) for participants with severe behavioral problems at five years of age juxtaposed to those with a normal RBS score. Also, the results showed the odds of DIMS plus not feeling rested upon waking up (DIMS plus) in participants with severe behavioral problems at five years of age were 29% higher (OR=1.29; 95% CI, 0.97 to 1.70; P = .14 for trend) than participants with a normal RBS score, although this result was not statistically significant.

Moreover, moderate and severe behavioral problems at 16 years of age were positively associated with DIMS and DIMS plus (moderate: OR=1.28; 95% CI, 1.07 to 1.52; severe: OR=1.67; 95% CI, 1.22 to 2.30; P < .001 for trend) and DIMS plus (moderate: OR=1.32; 95% CI, 1.11 to 1.56; severe: OR=1.47; 95% CI, 1.09 to 1.98; P < .001 for trend). Overall, externalizing behavioral problems at 5 and 10 years of age were positively associated with insomnia symptoms at 42 years of age.

These findings underline the importance of addressing insomnia from a life-course perspective and considering the benefits of early behavioral intervention to sleep health,” the authors wrote in their conclusion.

“This study is the first, to our knowledge, to suggest an unfavorable association of early-life behavioral problems with adulthood sleep health, underlining the importance of treating behavioral problems in children and addressing insomnia from a life-course perspective.”