Poor Sleep During Teen Years May Raise Risk of Multiple Sclerosis

  • Researchers say teenagers who regularly get less than 7 hours of sleep per night have a higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) as an adult.
  • They added that teens who generally have poor sleep quality also have a higher MS risk.
  • Experts say the study is in line with previous research that indicates that sleep and other lifestyle factors are connected to the risk of MS.

Failing to get adequate sleep as a teenager could raise your risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) as an adult, a study published today suggests.

The risk of MS was 40% higher among people who reported getting less than 7 hours of sleep between the ages of 15 and 19 compared to those who regularly got 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

Study participants who reported poor sleep quality during the same age range had a 50% increased risk of developing MS.

“Insufficient sleep and low sleep quality during adolescence seem to increase the risk of subsequently developing MS. Sufficient restorative sleep, needed for adequate immune functioning, may thus be another preventive factor against MS,” according to Swedish researchers led by Dr. Torbjörn Åkerstedt of Stockholm University.

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The importance of lifestyle factors for MS risk

The study compared sleep patterns among 2,075 people with MS and 3,164 without the condition. The average age of diagnosis among those with MS was 34.

Subjects who got more than 9 hours of sleep were not found to be at elevated risk of MS. Researchers said they controlled for other suspected risk factors for MS, such as smoking, being overweight, infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, inadequate sun exposure, and vitamin D deficiency.

Dr. J. William Lindsey, the director of the Division of Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology at UTHealth Houston’s McGovern Medical School, told Healthline that the findings “go along with other studies of MS” that show a link between unhealthy lifestyle factors and elevated MS risk.

For example, he said, MS rates have been shown to be higher among individuals engaged in shift work, “which disrupts your circadian rhythm and really messes up your health.”

“Like most other autoimmune diseases, we don’t know what causes MS,” said Lindsey, but the study “emphasizes that overall healthy behavior and lifestyles are important for avoiding MS.”

Dr. Achillefs Ntranos, a neurologist based in Beverly Hills, California, told Healthline that the study’s strengths include using a large population-based case-control design.

He said its weaknesses include that, as an observational study, it does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between sleep and MS risk.

“The study’s findings remained similar even when those who worked shifts were excluded, suggesting that the association between sleep and MS risk is not solely due to shift work,” he noted. “Sleep deprivation and circadian desynchrony caused by shift work have both been suggested as potential risk factors for MS.”

“Adequate sleep plays a vital role in our overall physical and mental well-being, including the health of our immune system,” Tom Greenspan, a sleep expert and co-founder of VS Mattress, told Healthline. “Poor quality sleep over extended periods can increase stress levels and affect the body’s natural ability to fight off infection and disease.”

“Teenagers should practice good sleep hygiene to get enough rest each night. It’s essential for teens to maintain a regular sleeping schedule, get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, limit screen time before bed, and make sure their bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet,” said Greenspan. “Doing these simple things can go a long way in helping teens get the rest they need and reduce their risk of developing MS later on.”

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