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Headaches and Sleep Problems Linked in Children


We usually think of headaches as an adult problem, but children can get them too. And when they get them often, say researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, it can affect their sleep.

Investigator Dr. Lenora Lehwald says children with frequent headaches have trouble falling asleep, have restless sleep or wake up not feeling refreshed. "We looked at children beginning about six years of age through 17 years of age," she says. "So, as you can imagine, there is a difference in how the children react to sleep disturbances between the different age groups. But, nevertheless, it has a big impact on the child's behavior, the child's attitude, the child's quality of life, and therefore, the family's quality of life."

Researchers studied children who have headaches on an almost daily basis as well as those who get them less frequently. Both groups tended to be poor sleepers. Teenagers had more frequent headaches than younger children, and girls had them more often than boys.

Researchers think older children might suffer more due to the added stress teenagers are under, and their tendency to stay up late. Dr. Lehwald says headaches and sleep problems feed on each other. Sleep disorders make the headaches worse and vice versa. "There seems to be a lot of good information that until we address the sleep disorder, we're not going to have very much luck in trying to improve the headache disorder," she says.

While medication can relieve the pain of headaches, Dr. Lehwald recommends helping children prevent them by developing good sleep habits. She says anything that gets a child excited or interested - like TV and video games - should not be in the bedroom. Instead, children's evening routine should include reading and other relaxing activities that could help make a child drowsy, and should start about an hour before bedtime.

The research was reported this week at the 24th Annual Conference on Sleep Disorders in Infancy and Childhood, in Rancho Mirage, California.