Young people in Flanders not getting enough sleep

Summary

More than half of children and teenagers in Flanders are suffering from a chronic lack of sleep, which researchers call ‘very alarming’

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Young people in Flanders get too little sleep and sleep poorly, according to a new study published by researchers at Ghent University (UGent). Researchers in the department of public health and primary care questioned 11,000 people aged 11 to 18.

Experts recommend that children of 11 and 12 sleep nine to 10 hours a night, and that teenagers sleep eight to 10 hours a night. The researchers found that youngsters in every age group were regularly sleeping too few hours.

Among the 11 to 12-year-olds, a full half were not getting the number of hours they needed during the school week. In the older age group, the findings were even worse: Among girls, some 70% were not getting at least eight hours of sleep during the week, while among boys, it was as high as 80%.

“The results are very alarming,” Anneke Vandendriessche, who led the study, told VRT. “We hope that much more can be done to make young people aware of the importance of enough sleep.”

Health risk

A lack of sleep can lead to trouble focusing in class as well as general health problems. Long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to weight problems, diabetes and depression.

The youngsters told researchers that they try to “catch-up” on their sleep at weekends and during school holiday, but that is pointless, according to Vandendriessche. “In fact, it’s worse,” she told Het Nieuwsblad, “because it leads to completely irregular sleep patterns that make it impossible to ever be completely rested.”

The study also showed that young people struggle with quality of sleep as well. A full half of the girls in both age groups report problems getting to sleep, staying asleep and waking up rested. About three in 10 boys reported the same. These results got worse the older the youngsters became.

Society has its own schedule. School starts, for instance, much earlier than they would naturally get up

- Anneke Vandendriessche

Some of these sleep issues have to do with those raging hormones, explained Vandendriessche. In young people, sleep hormones are produced later in the evening, an hour or two after they need to go to bed to get enough sleep. “But society has its own schedule” she says. “School starts, for instance, much earlier than they would naturally get up.”

But deficient sleep is a problem that is only being made worse by the digital revolution, she says. Using smartphones or other electronic devices interferes with the production of melatonin and stimulates the brain, and many young (and not so young) people use them right before going to bed.

The UGent study was part of a larger research programme carried out in 49 countries in Europe and North America. Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) carries out the study into all kinds of health-related matters every four years, with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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