New Research Links Poor Sleep to Cardiovascular Risk In Adolescents

A recent study out of MassGeneral Hospital for Children has indicated that both the quantity and quality of sleep have significant effects on cardiovascular health in young adolescents.

To examine the relationship between sleep and metabolic health, Dr. Elizabeth M. Cespedes Feliciano and her team monitored the sleep habits of 829 participants between the ages of 11-17. Using a small actigraph unit worn around their wrists, the teens had their nighttime sleep and daily physical activity measured over the course of 10 days. Researchers also made daily records of participants’ waist circumference, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin resistance, all indicators of metabolic health.

After 10 days, results indicated that the subjects slept an average of 7.35 hours a day, falling short of what’s been recommended for their age demographic. When these results were compared alongside the five factors associated with cardiovascular risk, researchers found that shorter or disturbed sleep caused a spike in systolic blood pressure, lower HDL cholesterol, higher triglycerides, and higher glucose levels. 

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Though Dr. Feliciano declined to speak with Sleepopolis, her report suggests that adolescent sleep health should be closely monitored by medical professionals. She wrote, Pediatricians should be aware that poor sleep quality – frequent awakenings and not just insufficient duration of sleep – is associated with increased cardiometabolic risk.”


According to the researchers at MassGeneral, many studies have linked poor sleep to childhood obesity, but few have examined its various effects on metabolic health. Dr. Elsie Teveras, one of the researchers, explained that this study is one of the first to focus on sleep and cardiovascular health in early adolescence — a developmental period with “dramatic biological changes in sleep, a high incidence of inadequate sleep and the emergence of cardiovascular risk factors.”

Some studies point to a negative correlation between screen time and sleep health, so the researchers adjusted levels of exercise and TV watching in participants to see how that might combat cardiovascular risk. While increased screen time did prove to dampen the quality of the teens’ sleep, cutting back on TV and increasing exercise was not enough to negate the rising levels of fat deposition brought on by poor sleep. Essentially, both sleep quality and quantity are primary factors in evaluating metabolic health.

“Sleep quantity and quality are pillars of health alongside diet and physical activity,” said Feliciano, “We know that exercise improves sleep efficiency in adults and that screen time decreases it in children, so preventive measures should target those factors.”

Sarah Riccio

Sarah is the former senior writer and bedding expert at Sleepopolis. She received her degree in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and spends her free time doing stand-up, making pasta, and hanging with her cats.

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