Study Results Link Teen Night Owls With Insomnia, Potential Behavioral Issues

A recent study that focused on teenagers in Hong Kong suggests those who stay up later at night and wake up later in the day have a greater chance of struggling with insomnia, as well as behavioral and emotional issues, compared to teens who went to bed earlier.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong surveyed 4,948 adolescents aged 12 to 18 about their sleep quality and mental and physical wellbeing. Of the group, 23 percent reported going to bed later and waking up later. The researchers identified these students as having an “eveningness” circadian rhythm or being “night owls”.

[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any medical information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert for your adolescent if you have concerns.] 

teenager asleep in bed with books nearbytongcom photographer/Shutterstock

The Link To Insomnia And Behavioral Problems

Results showed 52 percent of the night owls had symptoms of insomnia, which is marked by trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. This was compared to 34 percent of  participants who were neither evening-types nor morning-types and 18 percent of morning-types.

Night owls were also 88 percent more likely to experience emotional or physical behavioral issues compared to other adolescents and 25 percent more likely to report mental health problems, according to a report from Reuters.

“Not getting enough sleep or having poor sleep may negatively affect one’s ability to regulate emotions and decision making, thereby contributing to the risk of developing mental health problems,” said lead study author Shirley X. Li of the University of Hong Kong to Reuters.

“There is a bi-directional relationship between sleep disruption and emotional and behavioral problems,” Li said. “Poor sleep may lead to mental health issues, and behavioral or emotional problems may also cause difficulties with sleep.”

While these results are eye-opening, it’s important to note that the study is not without its limitations. One notable limitation of the study is that it relied on asking students to self-report and recall their own sleep habits and behaviors. Self-reported surveys always carry with them the potential for error.

The Takeaway

Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a researcher at Harvard Medical School (who was not involved in the study) told Reuters the results offer “fresh evidence” on the link between not getting enough sleep, poor sleep quality, and both emotional and behavioral health among teens.

“While insomnia has been clearly linked to these adverse outcomes in previous studies, this study suggests that insomnia and evening chronotype are independently associated with these outcomes,” Owens said by email to Reuters.

To help teens get more sleep, experts suggest limiting nighttime exposure to blue light. That’s the kind off light that’s emitted from TVs and other electronics, and it’s been shown to interfere with our bodies’ circadian rhythms. Experts theorize that limiting teens’ nighttime exposure to this artificial light in the hours leading up to bed may be one strategy for helping teens get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep per night.

Featured image: Peter Snaterse/Shutterstock

[Editor’s Note: Just a reminder that the information in this post is not intended to take priority over information provided by a medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, seek out a health expert for you or your child.] 

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Katie Golde

Katie manages the day to day operations of the Mattress Clarity news site and reviews sleep products in addition to writing and editing sleep news.She hails from Austin, where she lives with her growing family. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and has a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has a background in health and science content. Her work can be found in print and online publications like Discover Magazine, USA Today and The Huffington Post.