Some studies take months to complete, some take years and some can even take decades. When scientists from the University of Birmingham set out to research what kind of effects infant sleep problems have for their adult life, they knew that this study will take a long time. And it did – almost three decades later scientists can say that there is an association between specific sleep problems in babies and mental disorders in adolescents.
Young parents sort of expect their children to have some trouble sleeping. However, it is important to recognize when the baby is having some actual sleeping problems that can signal some more serious health issues. Scientists invited pregnant mothers of 14,000 babies to participate in this study and followed these children through to adolescence.
Sleeping behaviour was reported by parents when their kids were 6, 18 and 30 months, and assessed again at 3.5, 4.8 and 5.8 years old. Scientists also gave questionnaires to parents, asking about various mental problems that their children may exhibit. And this study revealed some pretty shocking data.
7,000 participants reported that their children showed some psychotic symptoms in adolescence, while more than 6,000 reporting on borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms in adolescence. How is that related to sleep? Well, scientists found that those young children who routinely woke up frequently during the night and experienced irregular sleep routines suffered from psychotic experiences in adolescence more commonly. Meanwhile those kids that slept for shorter periods at night and went to bed later typically had more BPD symptoms in their teenage years. Scientists now think that there is some kind of a pathway, linking sleep effects and mental conditions.
Professor Steven Marwaha, senior author on the study, said: “We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage. It’s crucial to identify risk factors that might increase the vulnerability of adolescents to the development of these disorders, identify those at high risk, and deliver effective interventions”.
We still don’t know causes of most mental conditions. Hopefully, with studies like this we can uncover them one by one. Sleep is very important, especially for the developing brain. This study hints that it may even be more important than we thought before. Even though more studies are needed to study this link, it is a good idea to advice young parents to pay more attention to their babies’ sleep patterns.
Source: University of Birmingham