TUESDAY, Oct. 2, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Poor sleep during the teen years may be linked to an increased risk of heart disease later in life, a new study suggests.
Canadian researchers looked at more than 4,100 adolescents and found that they slept an average of 7.9 hours per night on weeknights and 9.4 hours per night on weekends. Nearly 20 percent of them reported poor quality sleep during the week and 10 percent reported poor sleep on the weekends.
About 6 percent of the kids said they used medications to help them sleep, according to the study published in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Sleep disturbance, which was described as frequently waking up during the night, early wakening, difficulty falling asleep, restlessness and bad dreams, was related to certain factors. These factors included consumption of more fried foods, soft drinks, sweets and caffeinated drinks; low levels of exercise; and greater amounts of "screen" time (playing video games, using computers and watching television).
In turn, a higher sleep disturbance score was associated with a higher cholesterol level, higher blood pressure, higher body mass index (a measurement of body fat based on height and weight) and a larger waist size -- all potential risk factors for heart disease.
"In addition to these health risks, previous studies have shown that poor sleep also negatively impacts school performance. Parents should monitor caffeine intake, bedtimes and bedrooms overloaded with media," study senior author Dr. Brian McCrindle, a cardiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said in a journal news release.
According to the study's lead author, Dr. Indra Narang, a respirologist and director of sleep medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children, "these findings are important, given that sleep disturbance is highly prevalent in adolescence and that cardiovascular disease risk factors track from childhood into adulthood."
Efforts to improve sleep habits early in life could be an important way to prevent heart disease later in life, the researchers suggested.
While the study found an association between poor sleep quality in adolescence and cardiovascular risk in adulthood, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The Nemours Foundation has more about common sleep problems in teens.