About one in five young people have difficulty sleeping in Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland, according to a new study published in the journal Nordisk välfärdsforskning – Nordic Welfare Research. Further research also indicates that the proportion of young people with sleep problems is on the increase.
In Norway, on the other hand, fewer young people say that they have trouble sleeping.
Problem often underestimated
The regional study defined sleep problems as difficulty in getting sleep more often than once a week.
Respondents to questionnaires about sleep patterns often underestimate their problems and so researchers believe that the proportion of young people with sleep problems may be higher than what this survey showed.
"It is worrying that sleep problems among young people in most Nordic countries seem to increase given the link between sleep problems and brain development. Sleep is an important factor in young people's mental and physical health," says Charli Eriksson, one of the researchers and emeritus professor at Stockholm University.
Varying methods can be used to deal with sleep disorders. Parents, schools, decision makers and healthcare professionals have significant opportunities to take action.
"Among other things, it is about supporting young people to have peace of mind when they are going to bed. No technical devices, and shutting off the phone well before bedtime. Being physically tired facilitates sleep," Eriksson points out.
Emotional state, alcohol and drugs can negatively affect the quality of sleep.
Too much screen time
Further studies will analyse factors that may influence the development of sleep problems among schoolchildren in the Nordic countries.
Some recognised contributing causes of sleep problems in adolescents are long screen time and low levels of physical activity.
"What time the school day starts can also affect sleep habits. Changing one's 24-hour sleep rhythm every weekend is much like the effect of a transatlantic flight on sleep. A late start to the school day has been discussed, but the question is what sleeping in on mornings would mean in the long run," Eriksson points out.
The survey cited was based on a WHO collaboration, Health Behaviour in School Aged Children, between the years 2002-2014.