A new study finds significant associations exist between parent-reported insomnia symptoms and medical complaints of gastrointestinal regurgitation and headaches in young school-aged children.

Data from 700 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years (mean 8.8 years) were collected from the Penn State Children’s Cohort for the cross-sectional study. Parent-reported insomnia, which was defined as often having trouble falling asleep and/or waking up often in the night, was 3.3 times more likely in children with gastrointestinal regurgitation and 2.3 times more likely in children with headaches. Nineteen percent of children in the study met the criteria for insomnia.

Gastrointestinal regurgitation was reported in 7.5% of children with insomnia and 2% of children who did not have sleep disturbances. Headaches were reported in 24.4% of children with insomnia and 13.2% of children without insomnia.

Children with sleep disturbances had significantly more parent-reported complaints of gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, and bedwetting. However, only gastrointestinal regurgitation and headaches remained significantly associated with insomnia symptoms after controlling for demographic variables; apnea-hypopnea index; learning, psychiatric, and behavioral disorders; and socioeconomic and minority status.

The authors note that the cross-sectional nature of the study did not allow for the assessment of a cause-and-effect relationship, which could be bidirectional in nature, and suggest that future studies explore the possible underlying pathophysiological causes of such comorbidity between insomnia symptoms and medical complaints in children. According to the authors, these studies should explore whether treatment of sleep complaints improves the associated medical complaints and vice versa.