August 3, 2006

Children who come from families that are engaged in conflict may be at higher risk of developing insomnia by the time they turn 18 years old, according to a report in the August journal SLEEP.

Alice M. Gregory, PhD, and colleagues of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London studied 1,037 children of Dunedin, New Zealand, over a 1-year period, and at 18 years of age. The authors discovered that 15% of the participants experienced insomnia, and that a greater proportion of females (19%) than of males (11%) had insomnia. Study members with insomnia at 18 years of age came from lower socioeconomic status groups than non-insomniacs. Those participants in poor health were more likely to report insomnia than those in good health. There was a significant link between concurrent insomnia and depression. And children with sleep problems at 9 years of age were not significantly more likely than those without sleep problems at 9 years to have insomnia at 18 years of age.

Perhaps most significant, however, was the authors’ finding that study members with insomnia at 18 years of age experienced greater levels of family conflict at 7 to 15 years of age than did those without insomnia.

William Kohler, MD, of the Florida Sleep Institute, agrees that children are particularly sensitive to stressful situations such as inter-parental conflict. “If there is a parental disagreement, parents should refrain from exposing their children to it,” he said. “Discuss the problem away from the children. Wait until they are in bed or go outside, for example, but make sure they cannot hear you. Anything that leads to stress can increase difficulty in initiating and maintaining sleep. Good sleep hygiene practices as recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine include reducing stress as much as possible, particularly near bedtime.”

To view an abstract of the article, visit