National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Teen Sleeplessness Leads to More Sick Days
By Kelly Todd, NAMI Intern
When youíre a teenager, one of the best things you can do for yourself is get good sleep. Previous research on the benefits of sleep has shown that teens who get healthy levels of sleep are at a lower risk for developing depression and anxiety. They also report less stress and better concentration. However, having good sleep habits benefit more than just your mind, it buffers you against illness as well. Recent findings from Bradley Hospital published in the Journal of Sleep Research have found that healthy teens who report getting less sleep at night are more likely to develop an acute illness, such as colds, flu or gastroenteritis. The study was led by Kathryn Orzech, Ph.D. of the Bradley Hospital Sleep Research Laboratory.
Orzech and her team compared three outcomes between teenage short and long sleepers: number of illness bouts, illness duration and school absences due to illness. Their research found that longer sleep decreases the number of times that both males and females experience illness. They were also able to link longer sleep to less school absences due to illness.
Orzechís team came to their conclusions by looking at the total sleep time reported by their subjects for a six day window both before and after they experienced an illness. Generally, they found a trend in the data of shorter sleep periods before periods of illness than before periods of wellness. Not all of the subjects fit this trend though. To figure out why some participants were responding differently to similar levels of sleep, Orzech conducted a qualitative analysis, analyzing interview data from two shorter sleeping males who had very different illness profiles. From the data her team found that teenís sleeping schedules also played a role. Having an irregular sleep schedule, like when high school students sleep little during the week and try to catch up on the weekends, was found to affect the teensí illness outcomes.
When we are young itís easy to feel invincible. Most sleep studies only look at long term outcomes like cardiovascular disease or obesity which seem so far off to teenagers that itís easy to ignore them when theyíre pulling all-nighters to study for their chemistry test. Orzechís study showed that there are important, short term outcomes of poor sleep too. The link between acute illness and poor, irregular sleep is more relevant to teenagers, who may not be worrying today about developing cardiovascular disease in 30 years, but who are definitely worried about making it to their favorite bandís concert next week (because nothing can ruin a fun time quite like the stomach flu).
Acute illnesses arenít the only problem that comes with lack of sleep for teens. Previous research has shown that teens who report low levels of sleep are four times as likely to develop major depressive disorder compared to their peers who sleep more. Over 50% of teens who get less than six hours of sleep also report high levels of psychological distress, indicating good sleep habits as a buffer against stressors and mental illness.
Ready to start getting better, more regular sleep and start feeling happier and healthier? Check out some tips below for ways to improve your sleep!