Now this is scary stuff. I just read an article reporting new research on the effects that insomniac parents can have on their children. The gist: if you suffer from chronic insomnia and have adolescent kids, they could be at a higher risk not only for insomnia themselves, but also for suicidal behavior and for using drugs that induce sleep (like hypnotics).
Whoa. I know what you’re thinking: how could something as commonplace and seemingly “harmless” as insomnia in one person trigger suicidal behavior in another person? It’s a bit more complicated than you think.
Insomnia and Families
In a recent post, I commented on the muddiness of insomnia, which is a sleep disorder with myriad probable causes. We don’t have a single “cause” to blame for this multi-faceted problem, which the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says about 30 percent of adults have symptoms of. And new research is now showing that in some cases, genetics could be at play.
Insomnia can run in families, but only a few research studies have focused on the children of insomniacs. What’s more, we’ve only recently learned that having insomnia makes a person at high risk for major depression later in life, but this study could be the first to look at kids in particular and identify a major problem.
This latest study, which was headed up by a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, has astonishing findings: Children of insomniac parents in the study were almost three times more likely to report symptoms of insomnia themselves, more than twice as likely to report fatigue, and more than five times as likely to report using hypnotic drugs.
Even more troubling, almost 17 percent of children with parents who had insomnia reported suicidal ideation (thoughts and behavior), 9.5 percent reported suicide plans, and 9.5 percent reported actual suicide attempts during the past year. This compared to 5.3 percent, 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively, of teens whose parents did not suffer from insomnia.
The lesson is clear: get your insomnia under control or seek help for it if the usual remedies don’t work.
What are the usual remedies? As I’ve mentioned in recent postings, this includes maintaining good sleep hygiene, avoiding stimulants like caffeine after 2:00 PM, taking a time-out from the day’s stresses long before you slip into bed so you’re prepared for sleep, scheduling exercise into your day, and learning how to lull yourself to sleep (plenty of ideas and step-by-step instructions for visualizations techniques, among others, are in my book, Beauty Sleep).
And what to do if you’re worried about the kids?
- Speak with them about your sleep habits, as well as their sleep habits.
Let them open up to you about their troubles with sleep, if any. Ask
them if they’ve used any drugs to help them sleep better. Hopefully
they will be open and honest with you.
- Help them learn
all-natural techniques to treating their insomnia. Teens often start
using (and abusing) caffeine, for example, in order to get more done in
their over-scheduled lives, both academically and socially.
- You can help them establish a foundation for developing strong and
lifelong coping skills for managing stress. There’s no better time to
do this than now during their adolescence.
- If your teen still
sees a pediatrician, it may be time to upgrade to a doctor who
specializes in adolescent medicine. He or she can offer treatments and
insights more tailored to your teen’s specific needs that a
pediatrician may not be equipped to handle.
- Don’t underestimate the power and effect you have on your kids’ health and behavior. If you can’t get a handle on your own insomnia, they may not be able to, either. Make this a team, family effort.
And remember, getting a good night’s rest is a vital sign of good health—no matter how old or young you are.