Teenagers who exhibit irregular sleeping schedules and patterns or who sleep fewer hours than the average number required (8½ to 9½ hours each night) are more likely to experience viral infections such as the cold and flu. So say the results of a study led by Kathryn Orzech, PhD at the Brown University Sleep Research Laboratory.

The study published in PsychCentral reported that scientists led by Dr. Orzech investigated the frequency and duration of illnesses, as well as school absences caused by the illnesses, in teens having both normal and abnormal sleeping patterns.

A comparative analysis revealed a higher susceptibility to viral infections for teenagers in the group having less sleep. The study also showed a positive correlation between the higher number of average hours teens slept and the lower incidence of viral illness in the other group.

Orzech explained, “Our study looked at rigorously collected sleep and illness data among adolescents who were living their normal lives and going to school across a school term. We showed that there are short-term outcomes, like more acute illness among shorter-sleeping adolescents, that don’t require waiting months, years, or decades to show up.”

The Reason Why

Sleep deprivation can lead to an impaired immune system. Your teen’s immune system is designed to protect from colds, flu, and other ailments. When it is not functioning properly, it fails to do its job. The consequences can include more illness and absences from school.

The immune system is quite complex; it is made up of several types of cells and proteins that are charged with protecting our bodies against foreign invaders such as colds or flu. Specifically, sleep deprivation reduces production and activity of T-cells (so-called because they originate in the thymus), specialized types of white blood cells that directly attack bacteria and viruses and stimulate antibody production. Also, the body produces inflammatory cytokine. Cytokines regulate your teen’s response to infection.

How to Prevent Sleep Deprivation Leading to Teen Illness

The best prevention is a regular, consistent bedtime. This is never easy to accomplish with a teenager. But following a few simple steps can help:

  • Try to involve your teen in afternoon physical activities such as school sports, dance, or self-defence classes. Physical activity is an excellent method for inducing a need for night-time rest.
  • Consider a sleep-inducing night-time snack. Tryptophan has been shown to be a relaxant. Poultry contains tryptophan and ½ of a turkey sandwich with a glass of milk, or cheese and chicken slices rolled and eaten with crackers both make excellent before bed snacks.
  • Remove electronics from your teen’s bedroom. I know, it seems like a drastic step, but many teens will “go to bed on time,” then get up after parents are asleep to play more games on their computers.

Remember, sleep deprivation suppresses your teen’s immune system function. When your teen is sleep deprived, they are more likely to decrease their body’s ability to respond to colds or bacterial infections. It is your responsibility as a parent to make sure your teen gets consistent, regular, sufficient sleep to stay healthy and avoid school absences.

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