Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Late Nights and Psychological Distress

A study published today in the journal SLEEP confirms what we always suspected. It is the inverse of the adage, “early to bed and early to rise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.” Less than 8 hours of sleep per night appears to be directly correlated with increased psychological stress in 18-25 year olds. The solution? Delay school start times and cut down on TV and Internet before bed?

In the study, 20,822 young adults were consulted by questionnaire, reporting on how many hours of sleep they had had over a one month period and screened for symptoms of psychological distress using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). The finding that 32% of young adults were experiencing high levels of psychological distress even with normal sleep is remarkable enough but the study also found that the risk of nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness, and feelings of worthlessness increased by 14% for every hour of nightly sleep loss. This translates as sleeping less than six hours a night is twice as likely to be associated with the experience of distress.

Nick Glozier, associate professor of psychological medicine at the University of Sydney, who is the lead author of the research said, "In young adults already experiencing distress, the fewer hours they sleep the worse the outcome across the range of sleep hours", and this appears to indicate that lack of sleep compounds and amplifies existing problems.

It does not necessarily follow that just getting more sleep will resolve psychological stresses or that successfully reducing distress will lead to long peaceful nights as the researchers point out that sleep loss can continue after an episode of psychological distress has got better. However, a relationship between the two is indicated and more study required to disentangle cause and effect.

It couldn’t do any harm, though, to get an early night tonight.

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