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New Study Links Lack of Sleep to High Blood Pressure in Children and Teens

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics has revealed a significant correlation between insufficient sleep and the development of high blood pressure in children and teenagers. This groundbreaking research could potentially reshape the way doctors discuss hypertension with parents, emphasizing the importance of adequate sleep alongside traditional lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.

The study analyzed data from over 500 children and teenagers, aged 6 to 18, who were diagnosed with hypertension. The findings indicated that those who slept fewer hours than recommended were more likely to have high blood pressure. Although the study does not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it underscores the need for parents to monitor their children’s sleep patterns, especially if they have been diagnosed with hypertension.

Dr. Amy Kogon, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, highlighted the significance of these findings. “Doctors typically focus on lifestyle factors like diet and exercise when discussing hypertension with parents. However, this study suggests that sleep could be another critical factor worth considering,” Dr. Kogon stated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in seven young people in the United States is affected by hypertension. While the prevalence of hypertension in children has been declining, it remains a considerable health concern. The American Heart Association identifies several major risk factors for hypertension in children and teenagers, including being overweight, insufficient physical activity, and an unhealthy diet.

The study’s findings are particularly concerning given that the majority of middle and high school students in the U.S. are sleep-deprived. Nearly 60% of middle schoolers and over 70% of high schoolers do not get the recommended amount of sleep. Even elementary school children are affected, with up to a third not meeting the recommended sleep requirements.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following hours of sleep per night based on age: children under 6 years should get 10 to 13 hours, children ages 6 to 12 should get 9 to 12 hours, teenagers ages 13 to 18 should get 8 to 10 hours, and adults ages 18 and older should get 7 to 9 hours.

Dr. Barry Love, director of the congenital cardiac catheterization program at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Heart Center, emphasized the importance of controlling blood pressure early in life. “High blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and the damage to blood vessels occurs gradually over time,” Dr. Love explained.

The research team at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia examined the medical records of 539 children and teenagers, with an average age of 14.6 years, who were referred to pediatric kidney clinics due to high blood pressure readings. The children were asked about their sleep patterns and wore ambulatory blood pressure monitoring devices that recorded readings every 20 minutes while awake and every 30 minutes during sleep.

The study found that the further sleep duration was from the recommended levels, the more likely it was for children to experience high blood pressure during the day. Late bedtimes were also associated with hypertension, regardless of age, sex, or BMI categories. Interestingly, too much sleep was also linked to blood pressure issues, as the normal drop in blood pressure during sleep was less likely to occur when children slept longer than recommended.

Parents can take several steps to help their children improve their sleep habits, including encouraging a consistent bedtime routine, limiting or eliminating screen time before bed, creating a sleep-conducive environment, and encouraging regular physical activity during the day. Dr. Mariana Bedoya, an assistant professor of allergy, immunology, pulmonology, and sleep medicine at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, offered additional suggestions for improving sleep, such as avoiding caffeine consumption six hours before bedtime, maintaining regular sleep schedules, and avoiding naps for older children.

Dr. Love acknowledged the challenges children face in getting enough sleep in today’s world, which is filled with distractions and stressors. He encouraged parents to be proactive in creating a sleep-supportive environment for their children. “It’s crucial for parents to understand the impact of sleep on their children’s overall health and take steps to ensure they get the rest they need,” Dr. Love advised.