If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
What he said to me was so chilling, I wrote it down. It was 2001. I was on a bus, on an adventure, in Patagonia, and I discovered that the man across the aisle was also a physician. He said that he also cared for patients’ sleep problems. He had been trained as an adult pulmonologist (think obstructive sleep apnea) at a famous Boston hospital, but he decided that he didn’t want the cold academic life in New England. Instead, he wanted to enjoy playing tennis in warm Florida. He also said that he needed to see patients only three days a week. I asked how he could be successful working only three days a week. He explained that his practice was only retired Medicare recipients with sleep problems. He said that Medicare paid him for even very short patient visits during which he prescribed sleeping pills. Thus, he could see many patients a day. Sadly, Medicare did not pay him well for long visits that would have been needed to advise life-style changes for healthier sleep. He added, even if he did spend more time at each visit, these older patients were so set in their ways, they would never change their life-style habits. Additionally, because of his high patient volume, and because the adult sleeping pill industry/market is so huge, pharmaceutical firms paid him very handsomely to enroll his patients in clinical drug trials for new candidate sleeping pills for adult insomnia. He said that his patients were the adult version of the children I write about who have persisting sleeping problems. He described his patients constantly cycling from one adult sleeping pill to another new sleeping pill every several years because the beneficial effect of the older pill eventually wore off. So, there was a constant availability of many patients for him to see and for the pharmaceutical industry to experiment with. Here’s what he said:
“If you don’t have your child sleeping well, he will become a drug dependent incurable insomniac chronically disabled from sleepiness.”
Is this true? Don’t many pediatricians say to parents who complain that their child is not sleeping well, “Don’t worry, he’ll outgrow this.”
Let’s look at a 2022 published study to ask the narrow question, do sleep problems persist or disappear as the child gets older. Here are some of the results:
At 8.6 years of age, 24% of children were diagnosed with insomnia symptoms. Among this group of children with insomnia symptoms, at both 16.5 and 24 years of age, 43% continued to have insomnia symptoms. So, sleeping problems tend to persist. That is, 43% of 24 children with insomnia symptoms, or 10 children out of 100 children, had persistent sleeping problems.
Does this mean that the 76% of children without insomnia symptoms at 8.6 years are not at risk? No.
Among this group of children without insomnia symptoms, after age 8.6 years, insomnia symptoms developed by 16.5 years and continued to 24 years, in 15% of children. That is, 15% of 76 children without insomnia symptoms at 8.6 years, or 11 children, developed insomnia symptoms after 8.6 years that were present at age 16.5 years and continued to age 24 years.
Also, among this group of children without insomnia symptoms at 8.6 years, after age 16.5 years, insomnia symptoms developed by age 24 years in 21% of children. That is, 21% of 76 children, or 16 children, developed insomnia symptoms after age 16.5 years and continued to age 24 years.
So, among the 76% of children with no insomnia symptoms at age 8.6 years, a total of 36% had developed insomnia symptoms by age 24 years. That is 36% of 76 children, or 27 children out of 100, developed insomnia symptoms by age 24 years.
Take home message:
Around 8-9 years old, among 100 children with insomnia symptoms, about 10 children will have persistent insomnia symptoms at age 24 years.
Among 8-9 years old, among 100 children without insomnia symptoms, about 27 children will have insomnia symptoms by age 24 years.
Healthy sleep habits are taught by parents throughout their child’s growing years. Like personal hygiene habits (hand washing, tooth brushing, etc.) and safety habits (don’t play with matches, wear a helmet when biking, etc.), healthy sleep habits change with time and need to be taught again or reinforced. Baby sleep training and child sleep training is an ongoing process, not a one shot and done affair. The failure to teach healthy sleep habits to your child puts your child at a higher risk for developing the disabling chronic adult disease called insomnia.