It’s 11pm on a weeknight and your child still needs the bedroom light on. You want to get enough sleep for school the next day, but it’s a struggle.
Ours New research It shows what happens to the mind and behavior of teenagers, years after they become “night owls”.
This change in sleep patterns increases the risk of behavioral problems and mental retardation in adolescence.
But it’s not all bad news for night owls.
Sleep habits change
People’s sleep Styles change During puberty. Toddlers may stay awake longer, sleep later, and lie down the next day.
Many teenagers also change from being a Morning lark to evening owl. They feel more productive and alert at night, prefer to sleep later, and wake up the next day.
This transition to “evening” may conflict with the youth’s school and work. Chronic sleep deprivation at bedtime, due to these faulty sleep schedules, explains why nocturnal teenagers are found. More danger For emotional and behavioral problems than morning larks.
New research also indicates that morning larks and night owls have something different Brain structure. This includes differences in both gray and white matter, which are linked to differences in memory, emotional well-being, attention and empathy.
Despite these links, it is not clear how this connection might be made. Does being a night owl increase vulnerability to later emotional and behavioral problems? Or do emotional and behavioral problems lead a person to be more of a night owl?
In our study, we followed teenagers for several years and tried to answer these questions.
We did it
We asked more than 200 teenagers and their parents to complete a series of questionnaires about the teens’ sleep preferences and emotional and behavioral well-being. Participants repeated these questionnaires several times over the next seven years.
The teenagers had two brain scans several years apart to check their brain development. We focused on changes in the structure of white matter that allows our brain to process information and function more efficiently.
Previous studies have shown the structure of the white matter of the morning lark and the night owl They are different.. However, our study is the first to investigate whether changes in sleep preferences affect how white matter develops over time.
Here’s what we got.
Adolescents who became nocturnal in early adolescence (around 12-13 years old) had behavior problems several years later. This includes more violence, law breaking and anti-social behaviour.
But they weren’t prone to emotional problems like depression or low mood.
Importantly, this relationship did not occur in the opposite direction. In other words, we found that early emotional and behavioral problems did not influence whether a teenager became a morning lark or a night owl in late adolescence.
Our research shows that toddlers who transition to being night owls have different brain development than toddlers who remain morning larks.
We found that the white matter of the night owl did not reach the same level as the juveniles of the morning lark.
We know the development of white matter It is important To support the cognitive, emotional and behavioral development of adolescents.
What are the implications?
These findings will be developed Previous research It shows differences in brain structure between morning larks and night owls. It also builds on previous research that shows these changes are likely to come. In the teenage years.
Importantly, we show that being a night owl increases the risk of behavioral problems and delayed intellectual development in adolescence, but not in adolescence.
These findings highlight the importance of focusing on sleep-wake habits in early adolescence to support later emotional and behavioral health. We know getting enough sleep Very important For both mental and emotional health.
Here is some good news
It’s not all bad news for night owls. Our research shows that morning lark and night owl preferences are not set in stone. Research shows that we can adjust our sleep choices and habits.
For example, exposure to light (even artificial light) changes our circadian rhythms, which in turn affects our sleep patterns. So reducing exposure to bright lights and screens at night may be one way. To improve Our choices and driving to sleep.
Exposure to light First thing in the morning helps shift our internal clock to a morning-oriented rhythm. Before going to school or work, you can encourage your children to eat breakfast outside or go to the balcony or garden.
Rebecca CooperPhD Candidate in Neuropsychiatry; University of Melbourne; Maria de BiaseSenior Researcher, Psychiatry; University of MelbourneAnd Vanessa CropleySenior Researcher, University of Melbourne
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