A recent study published in  The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry suggests that children who consistently experience insufficient sleep from infancy to early childhood may face an elevated risk of developing psychosis in early adulthood. Researchers analysed the sleep patterns of around 12,400 children from the age of 6 months to 7 years. They discovered that those consistently getting fewer hours of sleep were over twice as likely to develop a psychotic disorder later in life.

This study is notable for being the first to establish a strong association between chronic sleep deprivation in childhood and the likelihood of experiencing psychosis in adulthood. Specifically, children with persistent sleep deficits were also nearly four times more likely to encounter a psychotic episode, characterised by a disconnection from reality and potential hallucinations. These findings underscore the importance of addressing sleep issues in children early on to potentially mitigate the risk of future mental health challenges.

Lead author Isabel Morales-Muñoz, from the University of Birmingham, emphasises that while a lack of sleep during childhood may not directly cause psychosis, it could significantly contribute to its development. This highlights the crucial role parents play in addressing and managing their children's sleep habits to promote healthy development

and potentially reduce the risk of mental health disorders later in life.

"It's entirely normal for children to suffer from sleep problems at different points in their childhood, but it's also important to know when it might be time to seek help.

Sometimes sleep can become a persistent and chronic problem, and this is where we see links with psychiatric illness in adulthood," said Morales-Muñoz.

The researchers also analysed data from about 4,000 adults when they were 24 years old. While the team found a robust link between persistent lack of sleep as a child and experiencing psychosis as an adult, they said they have not proven a causal relationship and that other associated factors need to be examined.

For example, looking at the immune system health of children, the researchers measured the inflammation levels in blood samples of nine-year-olds.
Results showed that a weakened immune system could partly explain the link between lack of sleep and psychosis. However, other unknown factors are also likely to be important, the researchers said.

"We know that early intervention is really important in helping young people with mental illness.
Understanding the role that good sleep hygiene plays in positive mental health could be a really important part of this process," said Morales-Muñoz.
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