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Adolescents With Chronic Insomnia

July 2008 - Recent research from The University of Texas Health Science Center published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found two to five times more personal problems among adolescents with chronic insomnia.

Interviews with 3134 young people aged 11 to 17 years in Houston revealed that more than 25 per cent had one or more symptoms of insomnia and almost half suffered from long-term difficulties.

Lead author Robert E. Roberts, Ph.D., professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences, explained:

"Insomnia is both common and chronic among adolescents. 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."

Researchers studied participants in Teen Health 2000, a community-based, prospective epidemiological study of adolescent psychiatric disorders to identify sleep problems and issues affecting physical health, psychological health and interpersonal relationships. Measuring 14 aspects of personal wellbeing at the beginning and end of a 12-month-period, they found that participants with chronic insomnia were much more likely to have problems with drug use, depression, education, employment and perceived health.

Robert E. Roberts said:

"Almost half of the adolescents who reported one or more symptoms of insomnia during the initial screening had similar issues a year later. Twenty-four per cent met the symptom criteria for chronic insomnia as defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)."

Researchers explain that the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV designates insomnia as a psychiatric disorder with diagnostic criteria including "difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, early morning awakening and non-restorative sleep over the past four weeks". It seeks to exclude other psychiatric disorders and the effects of substance use or medication.

The study found that at initial screening, 27 per cent of participants had one of more symptoms of insomnia, 7 per cent also reported daytime fatigue and/or sleepiness, and 5 per cent met the DSM clinical diagnostic criteria. Researchers drew attention to other studies indicating the association between adolescent chronic insomnia and behavioral or emotional problems and evidence that those with the condition are more likely to seek medical help.

Robert E. Roberts concluded:

"These data suggest that primary care settings might provide a venue for screening and early intervention of adolescent insomnia."

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