Subjective sleep complaints in pediatric depression: A controlled study and comparison with EEG measures of sleep and waking

Michele A. Bertocci, Ronald E. Dahl, Douglas E. Williamson, Ana-Maria Iosif, Boris Birmaher, David Axelson, Neal D. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

88 Scopus citations


Objective: Children with major depressive disorder (MDD) often complain of sleep disturbances; however, polysomnographic studies have failed to find objective evidence of these disturbances. This article examines subjective sleep reports of children with MDD and healthy controls focusing on comparing subjective and objective sleep measures. Method: Fifty-one subjects with MDD and 42 healthy subjects, 8-17 years old, participated in a comprehensive psychobiologic study including three nights of EEG sleep recording. Each morning, subjects completed a postsleep form subjectively rating their sleep, which was then compared with their polysomnographic studies. Results: Depressed subjects reported significantly worse sleep on four scales: subjective sleep quality, perceived number of awakenings, estimated minutes awake, and perceived ease of waking. In contrast to these subjective complaints, objective EEG measures indicated no evidence of disturbed sleep in the depressed sample compared to controls. Furthermore, exploratory analyses focusing on the subset of depressed subjects with the greatest subjective sleep disturbance showed, paradoxically, significantly better sleep in terms of the number of EEG awakenings and objective disturbances. Conclusions: Despite clinical evidence of subjective sleep complaints in depressed children, our EEG measures showed little evidence to indicate an objective basis for these perceptions. These findings raise provocative questions regarding the nature of sleep complaints associated with early-onset depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1158-1166
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes



  • Depression
  • Sleep complaints
  • Subjective sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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