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October 1, 2012

Sleep patterns may increase risk factors for heart disease in teens

By Lauren Poplak

Adolescents who experience sleep disturbances may be at risk of cardiovascular disease in later life, says a recent study led by researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). The study is published in the October 1, 2012 edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

“Significant sleep problems, such as sleep disturbances or sleep deprivation, are common among adolescents,” said lead author Dr. Indra Narang, Respirologist and Director of Sleep Medicine at SickKids. “Adolescents inability to sleep can affect their cholesterol levels, weight and blood pressure, placing them at increased risk for lifelong cardiovascular disease.”

Poor sleeping habits were defined as frequent waking up during the night, early wakening, an inability to fall asleep within 30 minutes, restlessness and/or bad dreams. Researchers from SickKids and Heart Niagara Inc. examined a cross-section of 4104 adolescents from the Healthy Heart Schools’ Program in the Niagara region of Ontario and found nearly 20 per cent of participants had significant sleep problems. Each participant was measured for indicators of cardiovascular disease and asked to complete a questionnaire measuring sleeping habits and nutritional status.

Greater levels of sleep disturbance were associated with higher cholesterol, blood pressure, larger waist size and higher BMI. These are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, the data showed that adolescents who scored higher on the sleep disturbance scale consumed more fried food, soft drinks, sweets, caffeinated drinks, and exercised less with more screen time. “The usual lifestyle for an adolescent often includes high caffeine consumption, a preference for fatty foods and reduced physical activity,” said Dr. Brian McCrindle, senior author and cardiologist at SickKids. “This lifestyle creates a circular pattern where lack of sleep causes decreased physical activity and increased caffeine consumption, which leads back to disturbed sleep.”

Poor sleep habits in adolescence increases the risk factors associated with developing heart disease in adulthood. Parents and health professionals should encourage healthy sleep habits in all children.