Teens who miss out on deep sleep could face health problems up ahead.
It’s not easy for parents to set and keep regular bedtimes for teenage boys. The temptation of video games, texting, and other diversions can result in youngsters staying up far too late and missing out on deep, restorative sleep. Unfortunately, not getting enough shut-eye can cause more than a cranky mood – your teen could also wind up with potentially serious health problems.
A study from Pennsylvania State University found boys who don’t sleep long and deeply enough are at risk of developing not only impaired attention spans but also type 2 diabetes. The research linked the lack of restorative, slow-wave sleep (SWS) in teen boys to insulin resistance, which can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Too little SWS also increased visceral fat – belly fat that sits around internal organs and also ups the odds of developing diabetes, along with stroke and heart disease.
The slow-wave stage of sleep appears to be crucial to the health of both mind and body. It protects memory and helps the body recover after a period of too little sleep. This deep stage of slumber is also associated with reducing the stress hormone cortisol and keeping inflammation at bay, according to Penn State neuroscience researcher Jordan Gaines who presented her study at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
To find out what the loss of adequate SWS might have on youngsters, Gaines analyzed data from 700 children from the general Pennsylvania population who had their sleep monitored for nine hours in a medical setting when they were between the ages of 5 and 12.
Then eight years later, 421of these youngsters stayed overnight at a sleep lab where they were monitored again for nine hours. Their body fat and insulin resistance were measured, and their thinking and memory abilities were tested, too.
Gaines found that the boys who had less slow-wave sleep in their teen years than they experience as children had significantly more insulin resistance. They also had increased belly fat and impaired attention spans.
"On a night following sleep deprivation, we'll have significantly more slow-wave sleep to compensate for the loss," said Gaines, who is a Penn State doctoral candidate in neuroscience. "We also know that we lose slow-wave sleep most rapidly during early adolescence. Given the restorative role of slow-wave sleep, we weren't surprised to find that metabolic and cognitive processes were affected during this developmental period."
Curiously, Gaines didn’t find the same association between SWS, health, and brain function in the teen girls tested, and she notes additional studies in different age groups are needed to learn more about the impact of too little slow-wave deep sleep.
”In the meantime, we can use these findings as a springboard for future work on the sleep-health connection,” Gaines said. “The best thing we can do for ourselves today is keep a consistent sleep schedule, so as not to deprive ourselves of any more slow-wave sleep than we're already naturally losing with age."
Teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best, but most adolescents get far less than the recommended amount of slumber, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In fact, researchers found only 15 percent of teens reported getting eight and a half hours of sleep on school nights.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website provides information on sleep and health, including tips for encouraging adequate sleep.
June 30, 2016
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA