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Prenatal Exposure to Nicotine, Other Drugs, Leads to Sleep Problems

Jun 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Prenatal drug exposure—including to nicotine—is associated with greater sleep problems in children according to a first-of-its-kind study that looked at such effects in children from early to late childhood.  The research was presented yesterday at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).  Kristen Stone, PhD, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, authored the study.

The SLEEP meeting—a joint, three-and-a-half-day venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society—occurs annually with a global group of 5,000 sleep medicine researchers and clinicians to present and discuss new findings and medical developments related to sleep and sleep disorders and is meant to aid in the diagnoses and treatments of such disorders as insomnia, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea.  Stone’s is one of an expected 1,000 research abstracts that will be presented at the event.

Stone said she and her team investigated reports “across time” of 139 mothers regarding their children’s sleep.  Children ranged from 18 months to nine years of age; 23 had no prenatal drug exposure, 55 were exposed to cocaine alone or in combination with other drugs, and 61 were exposed to drugs other than cocaine.  Children with prenatal drug exposure to nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, opiates, or some combination of these experienced increased difficulty sleeping over children not exposed to these drugs.  Also, analyses showed prenatal nicotine exposure resulted in sleeping problems significantly greater than with the other substances and that early sleep problems also predicted later sleep problems.

"Studying the effects of prenatal drug exposure on sleep may provide clues regarding how drugs affect the developing brain and may explain some of the effects of prenatal drug exposure on other outcomes, such as behavior and attention," said Dr. Stone.  "For example, studies show that adolescents with prenatal nicotine exposure are more likely to start smoking earlier than their peers, but we don't know what other factors, such as sleep, might be involved in that relationship."

Infants—children aged three to 11 months—should receive between 14 and 15 hours of sleep nightly, toddlers between 12 to 14 hours, and those in pre-school between 11 and 13 hours.  The value of consistent, healthy sleep should not be underestimated; sleep-deprived children may suffer from development or behavior problems.  Parents who suspect their child might be suffering from a sleep disorder are encouraged to consult with their child’s pediatrician or a sleep specialist.

Meanwhile, the AASM offers the following tips to help your child sleep better:

  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine—including a relaxing bedtime setting—allotting 10 to 30 minutes prior to prepare your child for bed.
  • Interact with your child at bedtime without television, computers, or video games.
  • Keep your children from age inappropriate TV programs, movies, and video games.
  • Do not permit your child to fall asleep while being held, rocked, fed a bottle, or nursing.
  • At bedtime, do not allow your child to have foods or drinks that contain caffeine, including chocolate and sodas and avoid medications with stimulants at bedtime, such as cough medicines and decongestants.

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