Importance: Life-course determinants of insomnia, particularly the long-term association of childhood behavioral problems with insomnia later in life, are unknown. As childhood behaviors are measurable and potentially modifiable, understanding their associations with insomnia symptoms may provide novel insights into early intervention strategies to reduce the burden. Objective: To investigate the association between behavioral problems at 5, 10, and 16 years of age and self-reported insomnia symptoms at 42 years of age. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study used data from the United Kingdom 1970 Birth Cohort Study, an ongoing large-scale follow-up study. Participants were followed up from birth (1970) to age 42 years (2012). Missing data were imputed via multiple imputation. Statistical analysis was performed from February 1 to July 15, 2019. Exposures: Behavior measured at 5, 10, and 16 years of age using the Rutter Behavioral Scale (RBS). Children's behavior was classified as normal (≤80th percentile), moderate behavioral problems (>80th to ≤95th percentile), and severe behavioral problems (>95th percentile) based on their RBS score. Main Outcomes and Measures: Self-reported difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep (DIMS) were collected using a self-administered questionnaire at 42 years of age. Log-binomial logistic regression, adjusted for several potential confounders, was used to estimate the association of childhood behavioral problems with insomnia symptoms in adulthood. Sensitivity analyses were conducted to check robustness of the findings. Results: Participants were followed up from a baseline age of 5 years (n = 8050; 3854 boys and 4196 girls), 10 years (n = 9090; 4365 boys and 4725 girls), or 16 years (n = 7653; 3575 boys and 4078 girls) until age 42 years. There was a 39% higher risk of DIMS (odds ratio [OR], 1.39; 95% CI, 1.04-1.84; P = .06 for trend) for participants with severe behavioral problems at 5 years of age compared with those with a normal RBS score. The odds of DIMS plus not feeling rested on waking (DIMS plus) in participants with severe behavioral problems at 5 years of age were 29% higher (odds ratio, 1.29; 95% CI, 0.97-1.70; P = .14 for trend) than participants with a normal RBS score, although this result was not statistically significant. Moderate and severe behavioral problems at 16 years of age were positively associated with DIMS and DIMS plus (moderate: OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.07-1.52; severe: OR, 1.67; 95% CI, 1.22-2.30; P < .001 for trend) and DIMS plus (moderate: OR, 1.32; 95% CI, 1.11-1.56; severe: OR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.09-1.98; P < .001 for trend). Externalizing behavioral problems at 5 and 10 years of age were positively associated with insomnia symptoms at 42 years of age. Conclusions and Relevance: This study is the first to show associations of early-life behavioral problems, particularly early- and middle-childhood externalizing problems, with insomnia symptoms in adulthood. These findings underline the importance of addressing insomnia from a life-course perspective and considering the benefits of early behavioral intervention to sleep health.
ASJC Scopus subject areas