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Depression and Sleep Issues in Children

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Updated September 30, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Sleep issues are commonly associated with childhood depression. In fact, disturbances in sleep patterns is a key physical symptom of major depressive and dysthymic disorder in children.

Some research has found that almost three-quarters of depressed children report significant sleep issues. Depression-related sleep disturbances appear to worsen in adolescence.

Too Much or Too Little Sleep?

Both ends of the spectrum exist when it comes to depression and sleep issues. Some children may suffer from hypersomnia, which involves sleeping too much, sleeping throughout the day, and/or lacking the motivation and energy to rise.

Other children, however, struggle with insomnia, which indicates difficulty falling asleep, returning to sleep after wakening, or awakening too early.

How Sleep Disturbances Affect a Child

Anyone who has had a bad night's sleep knows how it can affect daily functioning. Long-term sleep disturbances are associated with:

Signs of Sleep Disturbances

Temporary and mild sleep disturbances can be normal in children as they experience stress, routine changes, fears, illnesses, or even excitement. However, talk to your child's pediatrician if notice that your child:

  • Consistently seems tired despite an appropriate amount of sleep
  • Spends most of the day and night sleeping
  • Has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Is waking too early for the time she went to sleep
  • Has other symptoms of depression
  • Is unable to function normally in her everyday life

Depression treatments have been found to be effective in reducing sleep disturbances in children with depression. Be sure to talk to your child's pediatrician about any changes in her sleeping patterns that last more than two weeks, even if she is already receiving treatment for depression or another condition. Of note, some medications can actually cause sleep disturbances.

Sources:

Daniel B. Chorney, MS, Michael F. Detweiler, PhD, Tracy L. Morris, PhD, Brett R. Kuhn, PhD. The Interplay of Sleep Disturbance, Anxiety, and Depression. The Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 33(4): 339-348.

Boris Birmaher, MD, David Brent, MD, et al.Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Depressive Disorders. The Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 46(11). November 2007. 1503-1526.

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