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Dr. Michael J. Breus

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Attention Parents: Sleep Problems May Trigger Manic Depression in Kids

Posted: 11/30/09 01:03 PM ET

For years now, we’ve known that chronic sleep deprivation can trigger a litany of other health risks, from diabetes and obesity to heart and memory problems. This is true for adults and children.

But now there’s a new study has linked sleep problems among children as a trigger for manic depression. 

 I know, seeing a headline that says chronic sleep problems can trigger manic depression in your children is frightening for any parent, especially if you’ve tried everything to protect them from the ills of the world and one of your hardest tasks is getting your kids to bed on time.

Manic depression, sometimes referred to as bipolar disorder, is one of those illnesses that develops over time and typically gets diagnosed later in life as a teenager or adult, although signs of it can crop up early on in youth. It’s classified as a psychiatric condition characterized by strong mood swings and periods of mania. These are often accompanied by vicious cycles of restless nights and days. On the bright side, some manic depressives are highly creative and productive; many of our legendary artists and entrepreneurs owe their talents to the unique capabilities of their manic minds.

This latest study indicates that a gene which disrupts the body’s natural internal clock is linked to manic depression. Our internal clock is what dictates our sleep-wake cycle.

Which leads to these questions:

  • Does the gene get turned on by the sleep problems?
  • Or do the sleep problems result from the gene being already on?

Future studies will have to look for these answers. There’s a lot we don’t know about manic depression, about the brain’s inner workings, and about the genes that are affected by sleep, or lack thereof. Manic depression likely has a genetic component to it, but it may also have some environmental components as well, where sleep habits come into play. The good news is the more knowledge we can gather, the better equipped we can be for managing a condition like manic depression, as well as the associated sleep problems.

If you’re a parent, don’t panic - now is the time to instill good sleep habits in your family. A healthy sleep life makes for a healthy life in general, regardless of the risk for any single illness or condition.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael Breus, Ph.D.
The Sleep Doctor™

This article on children and sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.


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