Sleep deprivation associated with high blood pressure among children and teenagers

New research suggests that children and teenagers who consistently sleep fewer hours may face a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. The study, published in Pediatrics, analyzed data from over 500 young individuals with hypertension and found a correlation between insufficient sleep and elevated blood pressure levels.

Although the study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between shortened sleep durations and hypertension, its findings may prompt healthcare providers to discuss sleep habits alongside traditional risk factors like diet and exercise when addressing high blood pressure in young patients. According to Dr. Amy Kogon, the lead author and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, sleep is typically not a primary focus in hypertension counseling for parents.

While rates of hypertension in children have been declining overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 1 in 7 adolescents aged 12 to 19 may have hypertension.

The majority of middle and high school students in the United States do not get enough sleep. According to the CDC, nearly 60% of middle school students and over 70% of high school students are sleep-deprived. Additionally, as many as a third of elementary school children do not meet the recommended sleep guidelines, noted Dr. Amy Kogon.

The amount of sleep children and teenagers should aim for varies by age, as recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Children under age 6 should get 10 to 13 hours per night.
  • Children ages 6-12 should get 9 to 12 hours per night.
  • Teens ages 13 to 18 should get 8 to 10 hours per night.
  • Adults ages 18 and older should get 7 to 9 hours per night.

Dr. Barry Love, director of the congenital cardiac catheterization program at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Heart Center, emphasized the importance of managing blood pressure early in life to mitigate risks of heart disease and stroke associated with hypertension. He underscored that prolonged hypertension can lead to gradual damage to blood vessels over time.

In a study conducted at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, researchers analyzed data from 539 children, averaging 14.6 years old, who were referred to pediatric kidney clinics due to elevated blood pressure. The study revealed that insufficient sleep, including late bedtimes, was linked to higher daytime blood pressure levels. This association held across different ages, genders, and BMI categories among the children studied.

Interestingly, excessive sleep was also found to be associated with blood pressure issues. Normally, blood pressure should decrease by about 10% during sleep, but this pattern was less likely observed in children who slept longer than the recommended hours.

The study also highlighted common factors contributing to sleep problems among children. Anxiety was cited as a cause for sleep issues in about 25% of children ages 1 to 6, according to a poll by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Additionally, approximately 59% of children were reported to use electronic devices at night, which can interfere with sleep due to stimulating content and disrupted bedtime routines.

Dr. Mariana Bedoya, an assistant professor specializing in allergy, immunology, pulmonology, and sleep medicine at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, suggested strategies to improve sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine close to bedtime, maintaining regular sleep schedules, and limiting naps for older children. She advised against drastic changes in sleep schedules over weekends to maintain consistency.

Dr. Kogon advised parents to enforce rules such as prohibiting cellphones and other electronics in children’s bedrooms at night. She emphasized the impact of engaging and stimulating content on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, which can contribute to difficulty falling asleep.

Dr. Love acknowledged the challenges children face in obtaining sufficient sleep, attributing this issue to factors like anxiety and dietary habits that may disrupt sleep patterns.

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