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Sleep disorders peaking among young teens

Sleep problems and chronic daytime fatigue have nearly doubled among middle school-age children over the past 20 years. Finnish researchers note the proliferation of personal electronic devices and the popularity of energy drinks among the factors behind this trend. The long-term health consequences can be serious.

Image: Tuukka Myllymäki / Yle

Around 20% of middle school girls and 10% of boys in the same age group complain of chronic daytime fatigue.

According to surveys by Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the WHO's Health Behaviour in School-aged Children carried out by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä, the trend is likely to peak during this decade. 

Previous studies have pointed to a number of lifestyle factors that impact the sleeping habits of the young, including the evening and nighttime use of electronic devices such as smartphones, video gaming devices, computers and electronic tablets.

"Usage of these devices has probably hit its ceiling, because in practice every schoolchild [in Finland] has a smartphone. The problems they cause thus won't grow, but their use does seem to go hand in hand with sleeping disorders," explains THL researcher Erkki Kronholm.

Depression and risk of diabetes

Alcohol and the consumption of energy drinks have also been identified as part of the problem.

"Fortunately the use of alcohol by the young has decreased, but energy drinks have an undeniable impact and there's good reason to be worried about it. Their effects on children and teens should be thoroughly studied," says Erkki Kronholm.

Sleep is related to all of the body's basic functions, such as metabolism, brain functions, regulation of behaviour and moods.

"If sleep is disturbed or is too little, problems arise in many sub-areas. For the young, increased sleep problems raise the risk of becoming overweight, of developing diabetes, and later of developing cardiovascular disease. As for mental states, we know that a lack of sleep increases the risk of depression," Kronholm adds. 

Sleep is also important for learning, memory and other cerebral functions. The latest THL study shows that first-year high school students who suffer chronic daytime fatigue fall behind in academic performance when compared to their peers who get enough sleep.