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Kids' Chronic Headache and Sleeplessness Go Hand-in-Hand

One may exacerbate the other, new research finds

FRIDAY, Jan. 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Frequent headaches in children appear linked with sleep problems, although researchers aren't sure which comes first.

A team from the Mayo Clinic studied data from 100 children, aged 6 to 17, with chronic daily headache (headache present 15 or more days a month for three months or more) and 100 children the same age with episodic headache, which occurs less frequently than chronic daily headache.

Reporting this week at the Annual Conference on Sleep Disorders in Infancy and Childhood, they found that more than two-thirds of the children with chronic daily headache also experienced sleep disturbances, especially delay in sleep onset.

Other sleep problems included awakening during the night or too early in the morning, or not feeling refreshed after sleep.

"What's novel in our study is the finding that a high percentage of patients with headache have sleep disturbance," senior study investigator Dr. Kenneth Mack, a pediatric neurologist who specializes in headache, said in a prepared statement.

"The number of patients who have headaches and also sleep disturbance surprised us. They also have the same sleep disturbance: a delay in sleep onset," Mack said.

It's not clear which problem comes first, sleep problems or headache, because the sequence varies among children.

"They feed on each other: sleep problems make the headaches worse, and the headaches make the sleep problems worse. Also, the worse the headaches, the more likely children are to have sleep problems, and vice versa. They could have a common cause, or one problem could be an early sign of the other," Mack said.

Simultaneous treatment is required for both conditions.

"It's going to be hard to control the headaches till you get the sleep problems under control either with medication or non-medication treatment," Mack said. Examples of non-medication treatment include developing good sleep habits and maintaining a regular pre-sleep routine for the child.

More information

The U.S. National Sleep Foundation has more about children and sleep.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, Jan. 26, 2006
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