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Inadequate Sleep can Predict Heart Health Risks in Adolescents

Mar 06, 2014 12:06 PM EST

Older adolescents who do not get enough sleep could be at an increased risk of having strokes later in life or developing heart disease or diabetes, according to new research.

The revelation, reported in the Journal of Pediatrics, fills the gap between the established links between lack of sleep and health problems in adults and young children.

Adolescents often get inadequate sleep, and in the US, 30 percent of adolescents are overweight or obese, according to the University of Michigan Health System, which had its researchers involved in the study.

Along with collaborators from Baylor University, the Michigan researchers studied 37 obese adolescents age 11-17. The health conditions of these adolescents, including their fasting cholesterol and blood sugar, waist circumference, body mass index, and blood pressure - all of which can be used to measure risk of diabetes and heart disease - were compiled to create what the researchers called a "continuous cardiometabolic risk score."

The researchers fitted the 37 adolescents with monitors that recorded their physical activity and sleep patterns and recorded data 24 hours a day for one week.

"One-third of the participants met the minimum recommendation of being physically active at least 60 minutes a day," the researchers said in a statement. "Most participants slept approximately seven hours each night, usually waking up at least once. Only five of the participants met the minimal recommended eight and a half hours of sleep per night."

After compiling the data and controlling for factors like BMI and physical activity that may impact cardiometabolic risk, like, the researchers found that low levels of sleep "remained a significant predictor" of cardiometabolic risk in obese teens.

The researchers concluded that these adolescents' inadequate sleep places them more at risk for cardiometabolic disease.

It could not, however, be determined whether lack of sleep causes cardiometabolic disease or if obesity can cause sleep disturbances.

"However, the strong association between sleep duration and cardiometabolic risk score independent of the effects of body composition and physical activity suggest a potential influence of sleep duration on cardiometabolic health in obese adolescents," said lead study author Heidi Iglay Reger, of the Michigan Metabolomics and Obesity Center.

Iglay Reger said that the study indicated that objective sleep assessment could be a useful screening tool to identify adolescents with health risks. However, more research is needed to determine whether improving sleep duration would decrease the risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases in adolescents.

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