Is too much sleep bad for you? It depends on your age.

Getting enough sleep is vital for the health, particularly when you are younger. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) teenagers function best obtaining 8-10 hours of sleep every night but that’s not the same if you’re older.

concept of aging and skin care

However, despite the popular stereotypical image that teenagers spend a ridiculous amount of time in bed, a new study reports that teenagers are increasingly sleep deprived. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have found that the number of hours slept per night has decreased among teenagers in the US over the past 20 years.

Among their findings, published in Pediatrics, the researchers observed that female students, racial and ethnic minorities and students who are of lower socio-economic status were least likely to report regularly getting 7 or more hours sleep each night.

Without adequate levels of sleep, adolescents can find their abilities to think and reason impaired and become more prone to mood swings. Lack of sleep is also associated with mental health issues, weight gain, academic problems and substance abuse.

The NSF states that many teenagers also suffer treatable sleep disorders that can reduce the amount of sleep they get, including narcolepsy, insomnia and sleep apnea.

It used to be the case that people would brag about how little sleep they could get by on. Domestic diva Martha Stewart said she could run her empire on fewer than four hours a night, and Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, said he slept for no more than five.

But a growing recognition of the importance of sleep and the technological ability to monitor one’s sleep from the comfort of home have friends and work colleagues competing to see who can get the most quality sleep.

Cathy Barrick, Chief Executive Officer of the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, says she and her office colleagues routinely compare sleep reports from their personal sleep monitors. They wear Fitbits, Jawbones or other devices that slip around one’s wrist or under a pillow, monitoring things such as movement, heart rate and even body temperature. It’s pretty obvious to people when they’ve had a good or bad night’s sleep: They’re either rested or sleepy – but analysing the data helps put problems right.

Also By tracking changes in sleep habits, older adults or their carers may be tipped off to an impending stroke. Researchers have found that older adults who sleep for longer than eight hours each night are at a 46 per cent greater risk of stroke, according to a new study published in Neurology.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Warwick followed nearly 10,000 people between 42 and 81 years old for almost a decade, having study participants record how much they slept a day and their quality of sleep. Most reported sleeping between six and eight hours (70 per cent), but 10 per cent slept more than eight hours.

Older adults who suddenly start sleeping longer hours are at an even greater risk than those who have always slept a lot, according to the study. “People who shifted over time from sleeping less than six hours a night to sleeping more than eight hours a night were nearly four times more likely to have a stroke than people who consistently slept an average amount,” said the co-author from the University of Cambridge.

Quality sleep matters – removing the problems that can be caused by snoring is a positive step to better health. Don’t neglect it by thinking it’s either harmless or merely amusing.

John Redfern