New work by Drs. Annalijn Conklin and Chris Richardson found that chronic, low-quality sleep was associated with poorer health outcomes among young B.C. students aged 13 to 17, published in Preventive Medicine.

The Scientists analyzed data from the BC Adolescent Substance Use Survey (BASUS) Study, seeking to determine the effect of prolonged exposure to sleep deprivation and disturbance on the self-rated health in young people. Sleep deprivation (less than 8 hours per night) and sleep disturbance (difficulty getting to or staying asleep) are common among young people and may affect mental and physical health. However, much of the data used to inform health promotion in this area are from studies using single measures of sleep quantity or quality (both cross-sectional and limited longitudinal studies) and therefore lack a longitudinal perspective on health outcomes related to chronic sleep problems.

Drs. Conklin and Richardson used data from the BASUS study at three time points over a year to measure cumulative sleep deprivation and disturbance to understand the cumulative effects of these factors. Data from a total 3,104 students across 86 secondary schools in B.C. were included in the study. Young people who reported chronic sleep disturbance were almost 2.5 times likely to report non-excellent health than those who did not. No effect of chronic sleep deprivation on self-reported health was found.
The takeaway message from the research is that sleep quality may be as important as quantity when it comes to teen health — a previous study from Drs. Conklin and Richardson has shown that chronic lack sleep deprivation may increase risk of depression in young women. These findings could have implications for recommendations related to sleep hygiene practices of limiting screen time and caffeine before bed to improve sleep quality in teens.

Media Coverage

A Q&A with Dr. Conklin was published on UBC News along with a press release. The story was picked up by a number of news outlets, including CTV News. Dr. Conklin was also interviewed on Global News Morning for the Health Matters segment. Finally, a summary of the research was broadcast on Global News Hour at 6.

Next Steps

Further study is needed to understand the relationship between chronic sleep disturbance and deprivation and health. For example, does poor-quality sleep affect health more than a lack of overall sleep or does it eventually lead to the development of sleep deprivation? Future research should also assess the effect of physical activity or diet quality, factors which may have a significant impact on both sleep and health. The current analysis will help inform public health efforts to improve sleep quality and quantity in young people as well as the assessment of their overall health.