Sleep and Children's Mental Health

Last modified by Ann Watkins on 2016/04/07 17:16

Disordered Sleep  and Youth Mental Health

Disordered sleep (DS) denotes a range of sleep problems including hypersomnia (including sleep apnea and narcolepsy), parasomnia (including confusional arousal, night terrors, restless leg syndrome, sleep walking), insomnia (difficulty falling and/or staying asleep), and sleep-wake cycle disturbances. Research shows that there is a clear, bi-directional relationship between DS and mental health in young people.   

Disordered sleep in youth can have significant consequences for their quality of life. Sleep problems occur at high rates in a range of childhood and adolescent mental health disorders (for example depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance abuse). Also,  there is a growing recognition of causal and etiologic links between sleep-arousal regulation and aspects of behavioural-emotional functioning such as aggressive and negative risk taking behaviours.  Greater understanding of this interface will provide new insights and opportunities for early interventions.  sleepatdesk.jpg


Stakeholder awareness of the relationship between sleep and mental health is poor.  Research demonstrates that parents, young people and the range of youth service providers  have limited awareness of the improtant role sleep plays in mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Research from the Sleep and Function Interdisciplinary Group (SAFIG) at the University of Alberta lead to the development of a web-based resource to facilitate service providers’ awareness of the problem and access to a range of resources (see for the full report and resources). The website and report are a first step in addressing this lack of awareness and the need for clearly identified best-practice evidence for the range of stakeholders. 


Part of the SAFIG research was a structured critical review to examine the strength of the evidence for non-pharmacological sleep interventions (NPSIs) to improve well-being and function across a range of prevalent chronic physical and mental health conditions in youth. This is important because chronic health conditions in youth are on the ascent and present a major challenge for long-term management. The World Health Organization highlights that chronic illnesses are comprised of highly interactive biological, psychological, sociological, and environmental factors.  This complexity presents a major challenge for industrialized countries in the 21st century.


Youth is often a difficult time, full of great physical, social, and emotional changes the consequences of which impact the whole family. Youth with chronic conditions face an added burden when the complexity of their condition, in combination with puberty, makes their illness symptoms resistant to change, and significantly affects quality of life. It is precisely because the influences on chronic health conditions in youth are so multifaceted, that we can, and should, employ non-pharmacological interventions to address the constellation of bio-psycho-social domains that contribute to DS.  Examples of these types of NPSIs include  therapeutic use of activity to regularize sleep behaviours; education about the impact of DS on diet and glucose metabolism to motivate willingness to change; environmental modification in the home (light, heat, sound etc.) to promote proper sleep hygiene ; and interventions at the level of the household to help families understand how their behaviours and lifestyle choices also impact children’s ability to achieve restorative sleep and more positive health outcomes .


References and full report available at


~Sleep Right~

Resources to help youth with chronic health conditions get a better night’s sleep

December 2011


We are pleased to announce this new evidence-based website.  The Sleep Right website was designed to:

ü             raise awareness about the negative impact of sleep deficit on  children’s health and well-being, and 

ü             provide background and treatment information based on a detailed review of  existing research about non-drug sleep interventions

Our team of researchers at the University of Alberta and Concordia University College developed this website because SLEEP MATTERS.

Sleep problems can increase the risk of developing many chronic health problems.  Where health problems already exist, poor sleep can worsen the condition.  In other words, poor sleep contributes to poor health and, vice versa, health problems can often result in poor sleep.  Sleep is a serious problem for youth and in 2010 the American National Sleep Foundation made this the focus of their yearly sleep awareness campaign. 

Although evidence for a range of effective non-drug sleep interventions for youth exists, public and healthcare provider awareness is low.  This website is a resource to help address the need for evidence-based information on sleep problems and what we can do about them.


The Sleep and Function Interdisciplinary Group (SAFIG) research team:

Cary A Brown 1, Leah Phillips 2, Melissa Kuo 1, Maria Tan 1, Robyn Berry 1  

1 University of Alberta, 2 Concordia University College



Created by Cary Brown on 2011/12/30 21:45