Washington: Acute illnesses, such as colds, flu, and gastroenteritis are more common among healthy adolescents who get less sleep at night, a new study has found.
Researchers led by Kathryn Orzech of the Bradley Hospital Sleep Research Laboratory in US found the regularity of teens' sleep schedules can impact their health.
Orzech and her team compared three outcomes between longer and shorter sleepers: number of illness bouts, illness duration, and school absences related to illness.
The team found that bouts of illness declined with longer sleep for both male and female high school students. Longer sleep was also generally protective against school absences that students attributed to illness.
There were gender differences as well, with males reporting fewer illness bouts than females, even with similar sleep durations.
Orzech's team analysed total sleep time in teens for six-day windows both before and after a reported illness and found a trend in the data toward shorter sleep before illness vs wellness.
Due to the difficulty of finding teens whose illnesses were spaced in such a way to be statistically analysed, Orzech also conducted qualitative analysis, examining individual interview data for two short-sleeping males who reported very different illness profiles.
This analysis suggested that more irregular sleep timing across weeknights and weekends (very little sleep during the week and "catching up" on sleep during the weekend), and a preference for scheduling work and social time later in the evening hours can both contribute to differences in illness outcomes.
"Some news reaches the general public about the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation, such as the links between less sleep and weight gain," said Orzech.
"However, most of the studies of sleep and health have been done under laboratory conditions that cannot replicate the complexities of life in the real world.
"Our study looked at rigorously collected sleep and illness data among adolescents who were living their normal lives and going to school across a school term.
"We showed that there are short-term outcomes, like more acute illness among shorter-sleeping adolescents, that don't require waiting months, years or decades to show up.
"Yes, poor sleep is linked to increased cardiovascular disease, to high cholesterol, to obesity, to depression, etc, but for a teenager, staying healthy for the dance next week, or the game on Thursday, may be more important.
"This message from this study is clear: Sleep more, and more regularly, get sick less," Orzech said.
The study is published in the Journal of Sleep Research.