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Is a Lack of Sleep Hurting Teens’ Health?

Is a Lack of Sleep Hurting Teens’ Health?

Arguably one of the most well known facts regarding health is the importance of sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need between seven and nine hours of slumber to function at peak performance. For teenagers, however, sleep plays an even larger role in allowing the body to operate smoothly. Not only do sleep-deprived teens feel sluggish, but they may also be more prone to significant mental and eventual cardiovascular problems as well.

Teens and Sleep

Since the bodies of teenagers are still growing, they require more sleep than adults. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that teenagers need roughly 9 ¼ of nightly sleep per night. This extra slumber allows the body to produce greater amounts of testosterone and other hormones, which help the body to properly mature as it reaches adulthood. In addition, teenagers get more daily physical activity than any other age group. All of this exercise inflicts a good deal of wear and tear upon the body, requiring extra sleep in order to repair.

The Impact on Mental Health

In early 2014, a large-scale study examined the relationship between teen sleeping habits and poor mental health. Including nearly 12,000 participants across eleven European countries, the study found that teens coping with severe emotional problems slept a half-hour less than those in good mental health. Likewise, teens plagued by suicidal thoughts lost an average of 36 minutes of sleep per night. Despite these findings, the study’s authors noted that they could not conclusively link sleep patterns to deteriorating mental health.

The study also found that many teens failed to get the ideal 9 ¼ of nightly sleep. Teens who participated in the survey slept an average of eight hours each night. Of all the countries included in the study, teenagers in Ireland received the most sleep, whereas French teens were the biggest night owls.

An earlier study, released in 2010 by Australian researchers, covered similar territory. Authored by faculty at the University of Sydney, this report included over 20,000 volunteers ranging in age from 17 to 24. Some highlights from the study are shown below:

  • Compared with those who followed normal sleeping patterns, teens and young adults who slept less than six hours nightly doubled their risk of psychological distress (this term was used to refer to both anxiety and depression-related symptoms).
  • Subjects who slept an average of five hours or less were much more likely to report feelings of distress on follow-up surveys. People this group were three times more likely to be psychological distressed after a period of one year.
  • Of the 20,822 people who participated in the study, thirty percent reported getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Eighteen percent of teens and young adults slept less than seven hours on a nightly basis.

Hurting the Heart?

Research has found that poor sleeping patterns may also have a negative impact on teens’ future heart health. A team of Canadian researchers observed that teens that fell in the bottom-third in terms of sleep quality were in poorer health than their peers. Specifically, these subjects were more likely to have unhealthy blood pressure and cholesterol readings. Furthermore, nearly half (48 percent) of these participants were overweight, compared with just 39 percent of well-rested teenagers. The study based its findings on data from 4100 teenage volunteers.

The authors of the study cautioned that a lack of sleep itself may not be the culprit behind these findings. Teenagers who reported sleeping relatively few hours also had a tendency to watch more TV, exercise less often and eat more junk food when compared to other subjects. Even when taking these lifestyle choices into account, however, the researchers still found a link between poor sleeping habits and the warning signs of potential heart problems.

A team of Chinese researchers have also found that sleep can influence teen’s blood pressure. Surveying 143 participants between the ages of 10 and 18, the researchers asked each subject to keep a “sleep diary” for seven consecutive days. Following this period, the children’s blood pressure, sleep quality and sleep duration were monitored in specialized labs.

At the conclusion of the study, it was found that children who slept less during the weeklong “sleep diary” period exhibited slightly higher blood pressure levels. While not proving that elevated blood pressure readings could be blamed on a lack of sleep, the researchers did note that healthy sleeping habits could have a positive impact on blood pressure.

Doctors and medical professionals strongly emphasize the need for sleep, particularly for children and teenagers. With the possible connections between sleep, mental health and the cardiovascular system, it makes sense for parents to insist that their teenage children get to bed at a reasonable hour.

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