Flanders part of ‘global epidemic’ of disturbed sleepers

Flanders part of ‘global epidemic’ of disturbed sleepers
The research confirms what was called a "global epidemic" of disturbed sleep among young people. Credit: Pxfuel

Flemish youth does not sleep well, and not long enough, according to a study by the University of Ghent, commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The study, which looked into the sleeping habits of 11,000 Flemish youths, is part of a worldwide research project in more than 40 countries.

“The results of the Flemish study were very disturbing,” said researcher Anneke Vandendriessche, adding that young people in all age categories sleep far too little, reports VRT. 60% of Flemish boys between 13 and 18 years old do not sleep the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. For girls, it is 56%.

“Young people between the ages of 11 and 12 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night, but half of them do not make that. Older youths should get 8 to 10 hours sleep, but that does not happen either,” she added.

Young people do not sleep well for several reasons. “The sleep hormone in young people is produced later in the day, but society works on different timing. Schools, for example, start very early and as a result, young people have to get up earlier than they would naturally do,” Vandendriessche said.

The blue light of the screens of smartphones and laptops slow down the sleep hormone, not making people tired until later in the evening. “It gives a lot of stimuli, which makes it addictive,” said Vandendriessche. Stress at school and a lack of exercise during the day are also factors.

“Girls sleep even worse than boys, probably because they worry more,” Vandendriessche said. “They find it harder to fall asleep, and often wake up at night,” she added.

Trying to make up for sleep deprivation during weekends and holidays does not work, according to the researchers, as it only confuses the sleep rhythm further. Regularity and routine are much better. Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and depression in the long term.

The research confirms what was called a “global epidemic” of disturbed sleep among young people at the first World Sleep Congress in Prague in 2017.

The data was collected as a part of the international Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, supported by the WHO. Every four years, the study investigates the health and health behaviours of young people in 49 countries in Europe and North America.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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