‘Night owl’ teens more likely to develop asthma, allergies

EDMONTON, Alberta – Life in quarantine might be nice for teens who like to stay up late, but a new study says it may lead to some unexpected health issues. Researchers suggest “night owls” who stay up at night and sleep into the late morning are more likely to develop asthma and allergies.

The study in the European Respiratory Journal finds only 6.2 percent of “early risers” have asthma. In contrast, nearly a quarter of late rising teens in the test suffer from the condition. This pattern was not affected by the teens’ gender, whether they have pets, if a parent has asthma or allergies, or if the teens were exposed to secondhand smoke.

Authors surveyed 1,684 teens in the Indian state of West Bengal. Survey questions focused on participants’ sleep preferences and respiratory health. Questions also included whether they had previously been diagnosed with asthma or experienced wheezing, a runny nose, or coughing. The report is part of a larger Indian research project known as the Prevalence and Risk Factors of Asthma and Allergy-Related Diseases Among Adolescents (PERFORMANCE) study.

Digital disruptions linked to teens’ asthma, allergies?

Lead investigator Subhabrata Moitra suggests that modern digital devices may be influencing the sleep patterns of many teens.

“Our ancestors evolved to wake as the sun rose and go to bed as the sun set,” Moitra says in a media release. “However, a nighttime preference seems unavoidable for this young generation because digital screens are accessible at any hour.”

While it is unclear exactly why night owl teens are more susceptible to asthma and allergies, the study points to teens experiencing sleep deprivation or other sleep interruptions due to the light coming from their screens. This light may disrupt the normal function of the sleep hormone called melatonin.

“A perfect sleep is the result of good melatonin cycles,” the post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta adds.

A good night’s sleep is all you need

Melatonin has previously been linked to immune system function. Moitra explains asthma and allergies can both result from changes in the immune system. These factors promote the possibility that disrupted melatonin activity may be to blame for health issues some night owls face.

In the future, Moitra and his team plan to explore the connection between sleep, asthma, and allergies by more objectively measuring sleep quality and lung function. In the meantime, he argues that doctors need to ask teens questions about their lifestyle habits when diagnosing their medical issues.

“We need to be more vigilant to ask about eating habits, sleeping habits, whether they play outside, because these behaviors can be modified to help get rid of symptoms,” the researcher says.

The study recommends minimizing exposure to light from digital devices at night. If light exposure is unavoidable, the study authors recommend using amber and LED lighting to reduce brightness.

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