It’s the kind of headline that generates attention: “Insomnia Triggers Men’s Death, Kids’ Mental Decline.”
That’s what this week’s latest studies, published in the journal Sleep, are showing.
In one study, researchers at Penn State College of Medicine found that:
Men with chronic insomnia who got less than six hours of sleep a night, were four times more likely to die in a 14-year study than those who regularly got more rest. Weight and smoking habits were factored into the difference.
In another study, this one done in Australia, another group of researchers looked at the link between sleep and mental illnesses among young people and discovered that:
Young adults who habitually slept fewer than five hours a night were three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders than those that got eight to nine hours of shut-eye.
That’s pretty alarming. The Australian researchers surveyed about 20,000 people between the ages of 17 years and 24 years over 18 months. I’ve written numerous times about the importance of sleep for our youth, and this further confirms my recommendations. Teens need at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night to function best, but many aren’t getting that.
If you’ve got young adults in your home, you’re well aware of the challenges to changing household habits around sleep. It’s long been known that the effects of sleep deprivation are deadly. Sleep deprivation raises your risk for a slew of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. That’s the reasoning behind the increased risk of death among men who don’t get enough sleep. You have to wonder, though: did their poor sleep habits begin in adolescence? They may not have grown into adults with “psychiatric disorders,” but habits typically start in one’s youth.
Changing the sleep habits of a young person takes a concerted effort, starting with a simple conversation about the value and importance of sleep. This may not go over too well with teenagers who prefer to stay up late, but as with everyone else, their morning wake-up call doesn’t usually change. So to get more sleep, you have to be an enforcer:
Change the bedtime routine and get to bed sooner.
Set limits on things like electronics, television viewing, and engaging in stimulating activities.
Maintain sound sleep environments.
This goes for children, their dads, and their moms. Women don’t get a free pass here. They’ll be the target of another study soon enough. And the headline will read something like Sleep: Live Longer, Stay Sharper, Be Happier.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™