Psychiatric comorbidity of adolescents with sleep terrors or sleepwalking: a case-control study

S F Gau, W T Soong
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 1999, 33 (5): 734-9

OBJECTIVE: This study investigated the psychiatric comorbidity, personality traits and family history of adolescents with sleep terrors and/or sleepwalking.

METHOD: Thirty students with sleep terrors and/or sleepwalking and 30 classroom controls were selected on the basis of a sleep habit questionnaire. After completing the Junior Eysenck Personality Inventory (JEPI), the 60 subjects were interviewed by the first author with the Chinese-version Kiddie-SADS-E (Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for Children--Epidemiology Version). All subjects and their parents were interviewed for the subjects' sleep habits, sleep disorders, and personality characteristics in the previous year. The case and the control groups were divided based on whether the sleep terrors and/or sleepwalking had occurred in the previous year. There were 21 case and 30 control subjects in the final data analysis.

RESULTS: The case group had more psychiatric diagnoses and problems; there were statistically significant differences in overanxious disorder, panic disorder, simple phobia and suicidal thoughts between the two groups. The case group had more sleeptalking and nightmares during the previous year as well as more enuresis in earlier years. From their parents' perspective, the case group was more nervous and pessimistic. The results of the JEPI showed a high neuroticism score in the case group. There was an increased familial occurrence of these two sleep disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents with sleep terrors and sleepwalking were found to have an increased prevalence of other sleep disorders, neurotic traits, and psychiatric disorders and problems. Whereas sleep terrors and sleepwalking in childhood are related primarily to genetic and developmental factors, their persistence and, especially, their onset in adolescence may be related to psychological factors.

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