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June 27, 2019

Sleep Matters: Quality and Health Issues in Young People

Sleep routines are generally established in our formative years, although outside distractions often result in many teenagers failing to get the optimum amount of rest.

The boom in the use of mobile devices has negatively impacted sleep, meaning many teenagers end up feeling drowsy the following day.

Getting up early for school conflicts with the body’s natural rhythm, resulting in tiredness and an inability to concentrate properly.

Insomnia can affect mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing, and can impact learning and concentration levels.

Some studies have shown that if young people get the correct amount of sleep, their grades at school and college improve.

Promoting healthy living to teenagers is incredibly important, but sleep has traditionally been an area that has been overlooked.

However, health organizations have switched on to the dangers and realized that addressing sleep issues is a key part of helping youngsters transition into adulthood.

Read on as we look at some of the latest developments regarding sleep quality and health issues in young people.

Lack of sleep leads to poor health among young teens

New research from the University of British Columbia suggests there are numerous health benefits to getting a good night’s sleep.

The study, published in Preventive Medicine, was led by UBC’s Annalijn Conklin, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences and scientist with the Centre for Health Evaluations and Outcome Sciences.

“The public health discourse on healthy lifestyles has largely been focused on nutrition and physical activity, and I felt that there must be more to the story,” she said.

“Sleep is so fundamental to our health – it’s a biological need that drives our circadian rhythm, affects our metabolism, and influences many of our behaviors like eating and exercise.

“If we don’t integrate it into our discussions on public health, I feel we’re missing a large part of the story.”

A lack of quality sleep was linked with poorer health outcomes among young students aged 13 to 17, with those who regularly had trouble falling or staying asleep almost two and half times as likely to report health issues compared to those who did not.

“It was quite striking,” she added. “Even if they had difficulty falling asleep just one night a week, if that was a regular occurrence over two years, it really seemed to affect their overall health.

“What was particularly interesting was that the relationship between chronic, poor-quality sleep, and health outcome was stronger in the boys than it was in the girls.

“It shows that there’s definitely a link between poor health and chronic poor-quality sleep, which may be gender-specific, and I’m looking forward to seeing more research to explore that connection.”

Reduced screen time can improve sleep

Many parents complain about how much time their kids want to spend on using technology like mobile phones, tablets, games, consoles, or computers.

Excessive screen time cuts into a child’s natural downtime and makes it difficult for the mind to relax and therefore fall asleep. This has lead to some parents using CBD oil and other natural remedies to help their children relax and get a good night’s sleep.

A new study from the Netherlands suggests that cutting off screen time two hours before bedtime could make significant differences to a young adult’s sleep patterns.

The research, presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Endocrinology in Lyon, tested the effects that blue-light emitting screens had on young people.

Their sleep quality was monitored over five weeks using diaries, machines that track when a person is restfully sleeping, and by sampling their levels of melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep.

Dr. Dirk Jan Stenvers, a postdoctoral research fellow and clinical endocrinology fellow at the Amsterdam UMC, says the data shows that sleep problems are due in part to the blue light emitted by screens.

“Adolescents increasingly spend more time on devices with screens, and sleep complaints are frequent in this age group,” he said.

“Here, we show very simply that these sleep complaints can be easily reversed by minimizing evening screen use or exposure to blue light.

“If we can introduce simple measures now to tackle this issue, we can avoid greater health problems in years to come.”

Risky sexual behavior linked to sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that teenagers will engage in risky sexual behavior, such as having sex without condoms or having intercourse under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The researchers found that adolescents who were chronically sleep deprived were almost two times more likely to engage in unsafe sex than those who slept in an average of 3.5 hours on weekends.

Dr. Wendy M. Troxel, a senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, led the research project.

She said: “Teens by and large are not getting the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, due to several reasons, including biological changes in circadian rhythms, early school start times, balancing school and extracurricular activities and peer social pressures.

“Insufficient sleep may increase the potential for sexual risk-taking by compromising decision-making and influencing impulsivity.”

The study found that teens who were short weekday and short weekend sleepers were not getting adequate sleep during the school week.

Also, they were not catching up on sleep sufficiently at the weekends and were therefore chronically sleep-deprived.

“On one hand, we should encourage sleep routines for teens because regularity is important for maintaining healthy sleep and circadian rhythms,” added Troxel.

“However, for most US teens, whose weekday sleep opportunities are constrained due to early school start times, maintaining consistency in sleep-wake schedules throughout the week may not only be unrealistic but also may be unhealthy, if it perpetuates a pattern of chronic sleep deprivation.”

The study recommended that parents and teens tried to find a middle ground, which allows for some weekend catch-up sleep while maintaining some level of consistency in sleep and wake patterns.

It also implored school districts to consider delaying school start times, because this could make a substantial difference in helping teens get the requisite amount of sleep.

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