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New study links late-night habits in youth with asthma

The survey found about 24 per cent of youths who went to bed late and slept in late (night owls) had asthma, compared to just six per cent of those who were early to bed and early to rise (early birds).
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NIGHT OWLS – New research from the U of A released July 6 suggests youths who stay up late and sleep in are more likely to have asthma than those who are early to bed, early to rise. Researchers suggest too much screen time may be to blame. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

A new study suggests kids who are night owls are more likely to develop asthma and allergies than early birds.

University of Alberta pulmonary medicine post-doctoral fellow Subhabrata Moitra published a study in ERJ Open Research July 6 on how sleep patterns are associated with asthma and allergies in adolescents.

The study comes out of an ongoing 10-year project that’s tracking asthma and allergies in kids in West Bengal, India.

Moitra said researchers spotted a link between sleep patterns and asthma in adults back in 2014. His team wanted to see if the same link could be found in youths, as late-night habits often start in adolescence.

“More than 300 million people in the world are suffering from asthma,” he noted, and it’s the most common non-communicable disease amongst youths.

The team surveyed some 1,684 youths aged 13 to 14 to determine what asthma and allergy symptoms they had and when they preferred to wake up and go to sleep.

The survey found about 24 per cent of youths who went to bed late and slept in late (night owls) had asthma, compared to just six per cent of those who were early to bed and early to rise (early birds).

The team found the asthma correlation held true when they controlled for sex, pets, second-hand smoke, rural/urban households and parental asthma/allergies.

Paige Lacy, Moitra’s supervisor with the Alberta Respiratory Centre, said this was an amazing and unexpected correlation.

“We don’t know if late-nighters are naturally prone to asthma or if staying up late at night makes them allergic and asthmatic,” she added, noting correlation does not prove causation. It’s also unclear how important sleep patterns were compared to genetics, air pollution and other factors linked to asthma.

“It could actually explain why allergies and asthma seem to be increasing so much in young kids today,” she noted – there are more distractions at night now than ever, so kids might be staying up later.

Melatonin could explain this apparent link between sleep and asthma, Moitra said. Melatonin production is shaped by sleep patterns, and melatonin affects the immune system. Go to bed late, and that could disrupt your melatonin levels and immune response, resulting in allergies and asthma.

Linked to this idea is screen time, he continued.

“Blue light actually suppresses melatonin activity,” Moitra said, and if you are up late texting or playing video games, you’ll be exposed to more blue-white light from computer screens. Blue-white light has also been linked to breast and prostate cancer in adults.

Based on this study, Moitra and Lacy said parents should try to limit their children’s screen time, especially after 8 p.m., and ensure they go to bed early. Combining this with more daily physical activity would also tire the kids out more so they’re ready for bed. Alternatively, you could set your screens to night mode so they produce less blue-white light.

The study is available at

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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