Kimberly P. Yow

Kimberly P. Yow

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Kids’ sleep problems could be inherited, new research suggests

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For the 30% of children who have problems falling or staying asleep — their genes may be to blame.

That’s according to a 15-year study recently published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, which found that certain genetic variants can have an impact on children’s sleep quality and quantity.

Researchers from the Department of Sleep and Cognition at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam analyzed the sleep patterns of 2,458 children, as reported by their mothers.

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Those who were “genetically predisposed” to insomnia — based on polygenic risk scores that had previously been used for adults — were more likely to have sleep problems between 1½ and 15 years of age.

Those problems included having trouble falling asleep, sleeping less than most children during the day and/or night, and waking up often during the night.

“Our study shows that genetic susceptibility for poor sleep translates from adults to children,” said corresponding author Desana Kocevska, PhD, of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam, in a press release.

“This finding emphasizes the importance of early recognition and prevention.”

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Other studies have found that insomnia is inherited in about 40% of cases, sleep quality is 44% inherited and sleep duration is 46% inherited, according to the researchers’ summary.

One of the primary potential limitations of the study is that the sleep behaviors were reported by the children’s mothers and may be influenced by “maternal perceptions and expectations,” the study authors wrote.

For future studies, reports from fathers or other caregivers could help remove some potential bias, they noted.

Fox News Digital reached out to the study authors for comment.

Dr. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine doctor and neurologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, said he wrote the book “The Rested Child” in an attempt to break the stereotype that poor sleep quality is just an adult problem. 

He was not involved in the study, but shared his insights on the findings. 

“There are many factors that could predispose [people] to poor sleep quality,” he told Fox News Digital. “Underlying virtually all of these factors are genes we inherit.”

Genes can determine many factors influencing quality and quantity of slumber, Winters noted, including sleep timing, airway size and structure, predisposition to anxiety, and even how much a person needs to sleep.

“I think this study offers some insight into the idea that younger people can be predisposed to poor sleep, even at an early age,” he said.

Although genetics play a role, Winter noted that many other environmental factors can disrupt sleep.

These can include electronics/technology, schoolwork, extracurricular activities, medications, employment and social factors.

For kids who have enough opportunity for rest but who are still getting poor quality of sleep, Winter suggested seeking early intervention from a sleep specialist.

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“This is the key to not only solving the sleep issue, but also for keeping a relatively benign and acute sleep problem from slowly transforming into a more chronic and difficult-to-treat disorder.”

He added, “Sleep disorders are solvable. While there are plenty of resources out there for kids and parents when it comes to sleep, make sure you are enlisting the help of a behavioral sleep specialist early — and not simply throwing melatonin gummy bears at the problem.”

“For most of these kids, sleeping pills and/or sedatives are not the proper long-term solution,” he also said.

Funke Afolabi-Brown, M.D., a Pennsylvania-based pediatric sleep medicine physician and BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board member, who was not involved in the study, also provided her suggestions to improve kids’ sleep.

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“I recommend establishing a consistent bedtime routine, limiting screen time before bed, ensuring a comfortable sleep environment free of devices and other distractions, and getting regular physical activity,” she told Fox News Digital.

It’s also important to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, to regulate a child’s sleep patterns, the expert added. 

“Finally, if issues persist, consult with a pediatrician or sleep expert.”

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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