Effects of Insomnia in Childhood and Adolescence

By Joon Lim 

In this busy society, insomnia is quite often encountered, with many suffering from this disorder. Insomnia, a sleeping disorder, can be quite painful; it can lead to tiredness, irritability, depression, anxiety, lack of concentration, lack of ability to remember, and other symptoms (Insomnia – Symptoms and causes, 2020). With such exhausting symptoms in adults, it can be inferred how much of an influence insomnia would have in children during their neurodevelopment. 

Analysis in caregiver-reported sleep behaviours allowed the separation of sleeping disorder trends into 5 categories: persistent insomnia through mid-childhood (7.7%); limited infant/preschool insomnia (9.0%); increased mid-childhood insomnia (17.0%); mild insomnia over time (14.4%); and no problems (51.9%) (Child sleep problems associated with impaired academic and psychosocial functioning, 2020). 

With the ‘no problems’ category as a control category, children with persistent sleep deficit had the most impairments in all outcomes except for their perceptual reasoning skills. Children with increased mid-childhood insomnia did not score lower academically; however, they experienced worse life quality due to the frustrating symptoms. Limited infant/preschool insomnia and mild insomnia over time also resulted in some psychosocial deterioration and worsened life quality, although such effects were less prominent than the other categories (Child sleep problems associated with impaired academic and psychosocial functioning, 2020). 

Another study was carried out with 749 students in 27 high schools participating, collecting data using an Individual Characteristics Form, the Trait Anger/Anger Expression Inventory, and the Insomnia Severity Index (Sisman, Basakci and Ergun, 2020). It was found that 14% of participants experienced what could be ‘professionally’ categorised as insomnia. The study also established that there was a positive two-way correlation between insomnia and anger, with adolescents having sleep problems also dozing off in class and performing worse academically.

There could be many different factors causing insomnia in adolescents, and some can be prevented. The average sleep required to stay healthy as an adolescent is 8 to 10 hours every night (Kansagra, 2020). According to Kansagra, ‘sleep hygiene’ is an important factor that plays an influential role in sleep. ‘Sleep hygiene’ is the behaviour and environmental factors that affect sleep. These factors can include the temperature, noise, light, screen time and consistency in sleep schedules. The rate of decrease in body temperature has a correlation with more sleep time in early sleep cycle stages (Campbell and Broughton, 1994). Furthermore, adolescents tend to spend much more time studying and staying on electronic devices nowadays, rather than staying active outdoors like the past. This means that less energy is being used by the youth, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night. Alongside this, for more efficiency in working, children start drinking coffee for the caffeine as early as middle school, and this is associated with a decrease in sleep quality as dose increases (Pollak and Bright, 2003).

The sleep-wake cycle in early pubertal stages take a shift backwards. The homeostatic drive to sleep is accumulated slower in adolescence (Taylor, Jenni, Acebo and Carskadon, 2005), as well as melatonin secretion being pushed back to a later time, shifting the circadian rhythm (Carskadon, Vieira and Acebo, 1993). When such shift causes functional impairment, this is called the ‘Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSPD)’. 

As seen above, sleeping disorders are quite commonly found in adolescents, and can be very influential in the everyday life of children and teenagers. Such disorders can lead to negative psychological effects, academic setbacks, and everyday tiredness alongside lowered efficacy in learning. The disorders can be caused by poor sleep habits, but also due to their changes in pubertal onset. Therefore, it is best to consider both sides, and minimise suffering by adapting for the best sleep quality.


Mayo Clinic. 2020. Insomnia – Symptoms And Causes. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167&gt; [Accessed 19 September 2020].

ScienceDaily. 2020. Child Sleep Problems Associated With Impaired Academic And Psychosocial Functioning. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200803140012.htm&gt; [Accessed 19 September 2020].

Sisman, F., Basakci, D. and Ergun, A., 2020. The relationship between insomnia and trait anger and anger expression among adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing,.

Kansagra, S., 2020. Sleep Disorders in Adolescents. Pediatrics, 145(Supplement 2), pp.S204-S209.

Campbell, S. and Broughton, R., 1994. Rapid Decline in Body Temperature Before Sleep: Fluffing the Physiological Pillow?. Chronobiology International, 11(2), pp.126-131.

Pollak, C. and Bright, D., 2003. Caffeine Consumption and Weekly Sleep Patterns in US Seventh-, Eighth-, and Ninth-Graders. PEDIATRICS, 111(1), pp.42-46.

TAYLOR, D., JENNI, O., ACEBO, C. and CARSKADON, M., 2005. Sleep tendency during extended wakefulness: insights into adolescent sleep regulation and behavior. Journal of Sleep Research, 14(3), pp.239-244.

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