The poor sleep habits of teens and young adults are believed to be widespread in the U.S. and have been linked to poor academic performance, risk-taking, stress, poor decision making, and mood disruptions. Health concerns associated with poor sleeping habits include increased risks of developing cardiovascular diseases.
And according to new research led by Heejung Park, assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, these habits tend to worsen from the high school years to young adulthood.
“Past research has been limited and mixed on whether sleep improves or worsens during adolescents’ transition to young adulthood,” says Park. “And few studies have used longitudinal designs and objective measurements of sleep to study developmental trends in youth’s sleep.”
A total of 343 American young people of various ethnic backgrounds from the Los Angeles area wore sleep-monitoring watches on their wrists for eight nights for the study. The procedure was first done when the participants’ average age was 16 and then repeated at average ages of 18 and 20. The researchers looked at sleep duration, efficiency, and latency for both weekdays and weekends.
The researchers found that throughout the time period studied, the average hours of sleep went from highs of 7.43 on the weekday and 7.54 on the weekend for the 16-year-olds to 7.08 and 7.09 respectively three years post high school.
The researchers also found that poor sleep patterns in the earlier years of high school had nearly no association with youth's post-high school sleep patterns.
Further study is needed to better understand the biological and social basis of the findings, say the researchers.
“Overall the findings suggest developmental trends of worsening sleep during adolescents’ transition to young adulthood. Interventions to improve sleep may need to target specific issues faced by youth at that particular period in their lives,” concluded the researchers in an article in the August 2019 issue of the journal Sleep Medicine.
Park is currently working on two manuscripts, one focusing on the link between cultural orientation and sleep in ethnic minority and international college students in the U.S., and the second one focusing on the link between sleep and inflammation during adolescents' transition to young adulthood.