Children who behave badly more likely to suffer insomnia in later life

Children who behave badly are more likely to suffer insomnia in later life, finds 35-year study of 25,000 youngsters

  • Scientists at Flinders University in Australia analysed data from 25,000 children
  • All of the volunteers were tracked from age five all the way until they turned 42 
  • Youngsters who behaved badly aged five were 40% more likely to get insomnia

Children who are badly behaved are more likely to suffer from insomnia when they are adults, research suggests.

Scientists at Flinders University in Australia analysed data from 25,000 children, all of whom were tracked until they turned 42.

Results showed the youngsters who had severe behavioural issues aged five were almost 40 per cent more likely to have insomnia later in life.

The experts found there was a similar risk, either 28 or 67 per cent, if they displayed poor behaviour aged 16, depending on its severity.

Scientists at Flinders University in Australia analysed data from 25,000 children, all of whom were tracked until they turned 42

Bad behaviour included lying, disobedience, bullying, stealing, destroying belongings, fighting and restlessness.

It is believed behavioural issues in childhood could lead to similar problems in adults or poor mental health, if they are not addressed early on.

And living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep, according to the charity Mind.

The results of the study – carried out over 37 years – were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Network Open.

Parents of all the participants were asked about behavioural problems when the youngsters were five, 10 and 16.

All of the volunteers were then quizzed about their sleeping difficulties when they were in their early forties.

About one in three people are thought to suffer from insomnia to some degree. The NHS says adults need between one and three hours sleep.


Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.

You have insomnia if you regularly: find it hard to go to sleep, wake up several times during the night, lie awake at night, wake up early and can’t go back to sleep, still feel tired after waking up

Everyone needs different amounts of sleep. On average, adults need 7 to 9 hours, while children need 9 to 13 hours.

You probably don’t get enough sleep if you’re constantly tired during the day.

The most common causes of insomnia are: stress, anxiety or depression, excessive noise, an uncomfortable bed or alcohol, caffeine or nicotine.

Insomnia usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits. For example, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, and only going to bed when you feel tired.

Source: NHS

It can be caused by stress, mental health disorders and consuming alcohol or caffeine too late in the afternoon.

However, research has recently started to delve into whether the cure for tossing and turning relentlessly during the night could be genetic.

Professor Robert Adams, co-author of the study, said the findings suggest tackling bad behaviour early on could slash the odds of children becoming insomniacs.

He said: ‘This study shows a consistent association of behavioural problems during childhood, particularly at ages 5 and 10 years, with insomnia symptoms in adulthood.

‘The findings suggest early intervention to manage children’s externalised behaviours, such as bullying, irritability or constant restlessness, may reduce the risk of adult insomnia.’

Dr Yohannes Adama Melaku, lead author, said it is believed to be the first study to suggest an unfavourable association between behavioural problems and insomnia.

‘Given the cost of sleep disorders, including insomnia, to every economy and society in the world, it’s another important step towards managing this endemic problem in the community.

‘This first study is important because we don’t know exactly the childhood or early-life factors that potentially influence this outcome of insomnia.’

Dr Melaku added that ‘finding these connections could reduce sleep disorders in the future.’

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