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Journal Sleep: Insomniacs are more likely to report a family history of the sleep disorder

WESTCHESTER, Ill. Individuals with either current or past insomnia are more likely to report a family history of insomnia than are those who have never had the sleep disorder, according to a study published in the December 1 issue of the journal SLEEP.

The study, authored by Simon Beaulieu-Bonneau, MPs, of the cole de psychologie at Universit Laval in Qubec, Canada, focused on 953 adults between 18 and 83 years of age, who completed several questionnaires, including a survey of current and past history of insomnia/sleep disorders for self and first-degree relatives. Fifty-two percent of the subjects were classified as good sleepers, 32.5 percent as individuals with insomnia symptoms, and 15.5 percent as having met criteria for an insomnia syndrome.

According to the results, 39.7 percent of the subjects reported at least one first-degree relative (i.e., parent or sibling) with a current or past sleep problem. Insomnia (34.9 percent) was by far the most frequent sleep problem reported in first-degree relatives, followed by sleep apnea (4.6 percent), restless legs syndrome (2.6 percent) and excessive daytime sleepiness (2.4 percent). The subjects mother (19.7 percent) was the most frequently afflicted first-degree relative with insomnia, followed by sister (11.1 percent), father (7.5 percent), and brother (5.9 percent). For 2.2 percent of the sample, both parents had current or past insomnia.

Individuals with current or past insomnia were significantly more likely to report a family history of insomnia than were good sleepers who had never experienced insomnia in the past (39.1 percent vs. 29 percent). Subjects with a family history of insomnia endorsed higher scores on measures of insomnia severity, anxiety symptomatology and arousal predisposition.

The findings add to the limited evidence previously obtained from studies using selected clinical samples of individuals with insomnia, said Beaulieu-Bonneau. The overall 35 percent rate of first-degree relatives identified with insomnia lends additional support to the potential role of a familial predisposition to insomnia. More importantly, the presence of a past history of insomnia, either with or without current insomnia, emerged as a new and interesting candidate for future research examining phenotype and risk factors in insomnia.

Insomnia is a classification of sleep disorders in which a person has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early. These disorders may also be defined by an overall poor quality of sleep. Insomnia is the most commonly reported sleep disorder. About 30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia.

On average, most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well-rested. Adolescents should sleep about nine hours a night, school-aged children between 10-11 hours a night and children in pre-school between 11-13 hours a night.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) offers the following tips on how to get a good nights sleep:

  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
  • Get a full nights sleep every night.
  • Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that has a stimulant, prior to bedtime.
  • Do not go to bed hungry, but dont eat a big meal before bedtime either.
  • Avoid any rigorous exercise within six hours of your bedtime.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.

Those who believe they have insomnia, or another sleep disorder, should consult with their primary care physician or a sleep specialist.


Contact: Jim Arcuri
American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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