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Asthma: The habit that triples the risk for teens

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Teenagers who like to stay up late and wake up later in the morning are more likely to have asthma and allergies than those who sleep and wake up early, according to a study.

Up overnight seriously harms the health of adolescents and in particular the respiratory health, warns research published in the ERJ Open Research.

Although asthma symptoms are known to be linked to the body’s internal clock, this is the first study to look at how sleep preferences affect asthma risk in teenagers.

The study, according to the researchers, emphasizes the importance of sleep time for teenagers and opens up a new line of inquiry into how sleep affects adolescent respiratory health.

Dr. Subhabrata Moitra of the University of Alberta’s division of pulmonary medicine led the study, which was conducted while he was at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain.

“Asthma and allergic diseases,” according to him, “are common in children and adolescents across the world and the prevalence is increasing. We know some of the reasons for this increase, such as exposure to pollution and tobacco smoke, but we still need to find out more.

“Sleep and the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin are known to influence asthma, so we wanted to see if adolescents’ preference for staying up late or going to bed early could be involved in their asthma risk.”

The Prevalence and Risk Factors of Asthma and Allergy-Related Diseases in Teenagers (PERFORMANCE) study included 1,684 adolescents aged 13 or 14 years old who lived in West Bengal, India.

Each participant was asked if they had any wheezing, asthma, or allergic rhinitis symptoms like a runny nose or sneezing. They were asked a series of questions to determine if they were “evening types,” “morning types,” or something in between, including when they tend to feel tired in the evening or night, when they would choose to wake up, and how tired they feel first thing in the morning.

Researchers matched the teenagers’ symptoms to their sleeping habits, accounting for other characteristics that have been linked to asthma and allergies, such as where they reside and if their family members smoke.

They discovered that kids who like to sleep later have a three-fold increased risk of asthma compared to those who prefer to sleep earlier. They also discovered that late-sleepers were twice as likely as early-sleepers to develop allergic rhinitis.

Dr. Moitra adds: “Our results suggest there’s a link between preferred sleep time, and asthma and allergies in teenagers. We can’t be certain that staying up late is causing asthma, but we know that the sleep hormone melatonin is often out of sync in late-sleepers and that could, in turn, be influencing teenagers allergic response.

“We also know that children and young people are increasingly exposed to the light from mobile phone, tablets, and other devices, and staying up later at night. It could be that encouraging teenagers to put down their devices and get to bed a little earlier would help decrease the risk of asthma and allergies. That’s something that we need to study more.”

A second phase of the PERFORMANCE project is planned for 2028-29, which means it will be feasible to repeat the study with a fresh set of teenagers to evaluate if their sleeping patterns and respiratory health have changed. Dr. Moitra and his colleagues also want to be able to quantify their findings by collecting objective measurements of individuals’ lung function and sleep time.

“This is the first study to examine the possible role of different sleep preferences in teenagers’ risk of asthma and allergies, and it opens up an interesting and important new line of research. We already know that sleeping well is important for physical and mental health, so we should continue to encourage teenagers to get a good night’s sleep,” says Professor Thierry Troosters is President of the European Respiratory Society and was not involved in the research.

Source: 10.1183/23120541.00226-2020

Image Credit: Getty

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