Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are at much higher risk of sleep problems than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a new study published in LGBT Health magazine.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 8,500 young people ages 10 to 14, a critical time for mental and physical development. They found that 35.1% of those who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual reported trouble falling or staying asleep in the previous two weeks, compared with 13.5% of teens who identified as heterosexual.
In addition, 30.8% of the young people surveyed—those who responded “maybe” to being gay, lesbian, or bisexual—reported trouble getting a rest through the night.
«Sleep is incredibly important to an adolescent’s health,» said lead author Jason M. Nagata, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. «There are growth spurts and hormonal changes that help you develop normally.»
Most kids don’t sleep well to begin with, Nagata said, but LGBTQ youth may face bullying and discrimination at school or conflicts at home that contribute to mental health problems.
Those problems can prevent them from falling asleep or staying asleep.
«It’s likely that one feeds off the other: lack of sleep makes mental health problems worse, and mental health problems make sleep worse,» said Dr. Matthew Hirschtritt, a psychiatrist and Kaiser Permanente researcher who did not work on this study. .
Teens who don’t get enough sleep can also have a hard time completing schoolwork and dealing with other academic challenges, Hirschtritt added, «which can exacerbate some of the school problems LGBT youth already face.»
Nagata’s team used data from 2018 to 2020 from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Studywhich included questions for both the subjects and their parents about their sleep habits.
Existing investigation It already points to an increase in sleep problems among sexual minorities, but Nagata said he believes this is the first time gay, lesbian and bisexual youth have been in the spotlight.
“This is such a volatile period, both physically and mentally,” he said. «Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the opinions of their peers, making them a high-risk group for mental health problems and suicide.»
Additional research could illuminate other factors fueling sleep disorders among gay youth, he said.
“LGB children experience more substance use than their peers, for example, which can disrupt sleep cycles and affect sleep,” she said.
Overstimulation and stress can also affect sleep. Separate investigation Nagata has worked on indicates that gay youth use screens an average of nearly four hours a day more than heterosexual kids.
She recommends that teens establish consistent sleep schedules, make sure their sleeping environments are comfortable, and limit their exposure to electronic devices and social media before bed.
Co-author Kyle T. Ganson, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work, said parents can also help by being actively involved in their children’s lives and supporting their identities and any feelings they may be exploring.
«Adolescent development is a challenging time for many given the societal pressures and the physical, psychological and emotional changes that occur,» Ganson said in a statement. “Understanding this process and being there to support it is crucial for positive health outcomes.”