09/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Do Your Kids Have High Blood Pressure? Check Their Sleep

By now we are all aware that heart disease is the number one killer among men and women in the U.S. But here's a new twist: how well your children sleep in their teenage years could have an impact on their ability to stave off cardiovascular problems in their adult lives.

A fresh study that I just read about online reveals that sleep-deprived teens, which includes teens who don't get high-quality sleep, could be setting themselves up for heart disease later on. I was surprised to learn that this reflects the first study to look at the links between high blood pressure and sleep quality in healthy adolescents. That's right: healthy adolescents.

So we're not talking about special cases of teens out on the fringes of the bell curve who suffer from things like sleep apnea or other health problems. The researchers were also careful to rule out links explained by socioeconomic status. Bottom line: if your healthy kid is getting poor sleep, he or she is at risk for elevated blood pressure.

The culprit to teenage sleeplessness? As noted in the study, music
players, computers, and phones could be partly to blame, and I agree
with that statement. Our kids are bombarded by digital electronics
today that keep them up, alert, and online. Gone are the days you'd say
goodbye to your classmates at the end of the last class and go home to
a quiet, wire-free room to do your homework (if only!). Kids these days
write more text messages and e-mail than they do research papers and
book reports.

How many hours of sleep is your teen getting? Do you know? On
average, they need about 9 hours of sleep, which his very difficult to
get these days. Policing your teens sleep habits can be challenging, if
not seemingly impossible. May I suggest...

  • Speaking openly with your teen about setting boundaries for using the computer and cell phone late at night for purposes other than homework.
  • Reminding them about the value of sleep. They can avoid the routine
    frustration of having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning to
    go to school, much less stay awake in class.
  • Scheduling a check-up for your child early in the school year.
    Bring up any concerns you have with your kid's doctor--sometimes hearing
    advice from someone other than you will get your kid to change habits.
  • Practicing what you try to preach. If your sleep habits are terrible, guess what: so will your kids' habits. Establish a healthy sleep hygiene and your kids will notice. Your whole family will benefit.

We often associate high blood pressure with adulthood, but it helps
to remind ourselves that our health status throughout our lives can be
predicated on the habits we establish as youths. You could be doing
your teen more good than you can appreciate now by bearing this in
mind. High blood pressure does not discriminate. And neither does
getting a restful night's sleep. It's for all of us.   

This article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.