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September 01, 2010

Lack of sleep triples risk of mental illness

A recent research suggests young people getting less than five hours sleep/night are tripling their chances of developing a mental illness.

The George Institute for Global Health surveyed almost 20,000 Australians aged between 17 & 24 for the research.

Researchers found those sleeping fewer than five hours a night are three times more likely to become mentally ill than those sleeping for eight or nine hours. The results, which appear in the journal Sleep, also linked sleep deprivation with cardiovascular disease & weight gain.

The study's lead author, Professor Nick Glozier, says the average amount of sleep for a young adult is eight to nine hours a night. But he says that has been decreasing, especially over the past decade. "Over the past few decades young adults 've been sleeping fewer & fewer hours, whereas the rest of us ... 've generally been sleeping more hours," says Glozier.

"There's a whole bunch of gadgets that kids & young adults now 've in their bedrooms that they never used to 've. Yet of course they've got to get up and go to school or go to college or go to uni at exactly the same time. So there's a group of them who are becoming more & more sleep-deprived."

The researchers also found over half of those who reported getting fewer than six hours sleep per night had high levels of psychological distress compared to about one quarter of those sleeping eight to nine hours a night.

Glozier says it is important to prevent mental health problems where possible. "It's those chronic mental health problems when you're an adolescent or you're a young adult, that lead on to the more important adult forms of the disorders, like major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder," he says. "So if we can do something around that group of people when they're beginning to become chronic, or preventing those chronic, persistent problems then we may 've a really good target for an early intervention."

Dr Patrick McGorry, a professor of youth mental health at the University of Melbourne, believes the study highlights the effects of disturbance in chronobiology - the timing of biological rhythms. "It might be a very important marker or risk factor that we can actually measure and help us with identifying people who are at particular risk for these problems," says McGorry.

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