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Kids' Sleep Woes, Headaches Linked

Study: Two-Thirds of Kids With Chronic Headaches Have Sleep Problems
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 26, 2006 -- Sleep problems often go hand in hand with headaches for kids and teens, new research shows.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., studied 200 children aged 6-17. Half of the children had chronic headaches (headaches on 15 or more days per month for at least three months). The other children had episodic (less frequent) headaches.

About two-thirds of children with chronic headaches had sleep disturbances. So did a smaller number -- one-fifth -- of those with episodic headaches.

The findings will be presented at the 24th Annual Conference on Sleep Disorders in Infancy and Childhood. The conference is being held this week in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

The researchers included Lenora Lehwald, MD, a neurology resident, and Kenneth Mack, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist.

Sleep and Chronic Headaches

Mack and Lehwald commented on the study in a news release.

"We've continually seen that children with headaches are poor sleepers and that they're fatigued because they have poor sleep," Mack says.

"We've known that when people don't get enough sleep they get more headaches, but we'd not appreciated the frequency of sleep disturbance with chronic daily headache," he continues.

In the study, chronic headache patients more often reported waking frequently at night and in the early morning. Those with episodic headaches more often reported snoring and having restless legs syndrome.

Sleep problems and headaches may "feed on each other," worsening each condition, Mack says. "They could have a common cause, or one problem could be an early sign of the other."

Upgrading Kids' Sleep

In the news release, Lehwald offered suggestions for helping kids and teens get better sleep.

"A child should use his bedroom for just the types of activities that would be sedating and relaxing," Lehwald says. "TVs, video games -- things that are exciting and get the child interested, motivated, and activated -- should not be in the bedroom."

"Also, it's important for children to have a routine for calming down and preparing for sleep the last hour they plan to be awake," she says. "They should choose activities that make them drowsy, like reading."

"Educating the patient and family on things like good sleep habits may in and of itself help to improve the sleep quality and thus the headaches in the long run," says Lehwald.

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