Most teens who seek insomnia treatment have underlying mental health issues

Nearly 75% of teen patients seeking treatment for insomnia also suffer from an underlying, diagnosed mental health condition, primarily ADHD or depression, according to a new study.

Researchers who conducted the study said its findings suggest adolescent healthcare providers should consider possible mental health symptoms when addressing sleep concerns.

“These rates were surprisingly high, even when we accounted for the fact that some insomnia and mental health symptoms overlap,” said Tori Van Dyk, PhD, MA, assistant professor at Loma Linda University School of Behavioral Health and lead author of the study.

Emotional and behavioral problems have long been known be associated with sleep issues, but Van Dyk said little was known about the mental health of teenagers who seek treatment specifically for sleep issues. “Our findings reinforce what many sleep clinicians know: you can’t treat sleep problems without considering the role of mental health,” she said.

The study, “Rates of Mental Health Symptoms and Associations With Self-Reported Sleep Quality and Sleep Hygiene in Adolescents Presenting for Insomnia Treatment,” used data from 376 adolescents, ages 11 to 18 years, seeking treatment for insomnia. The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in October, was conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University Health and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

This study was among the first to look more systematically at how common mental health problems are for teens presenting to sleep centers, Van Dyk said.

Van Dyk says the not all mental health symptoms matter equally when it comes to insomnia. Ideally, teen sleep problems should be managed by a team of sleep clinicians, including both physicians and psychologists, Van Dyk said.

Loma Linda University has a team of psychology supervised trainees who work alongside a board-certified pediatric sleep medicine physician. “By having experts in both sleep medicine and psychology present in the room with patients, we can provide integrated treatment plans that take physical, behavioral and emotional aspects of the problem into consideration,” Van Dyk said.

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