Metro Weekly

Gay Youth Twice as Likely to Experience Sleep Troubles

Factors like stress, anxiety, and overstimulation may lead to sleep disorders that have negative physical impacts on LGBTQ youth.

Photo: Valentin M Armianu, via Dreamstime.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience difficulties with getting a sufficient amount of sleep, according to a recent study published in a medical journal.

The study, published in the journal LGBT Health, examined data on more than 8,500 youths aged 10 to 14. Among those who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, more than 1 in 3 — approximately 35.1% — reported trouble falling or staying asleep in the previous two weeks.

By comparison, only 13.5% of straight-identifying youth experienced similar sleep disruptions.

In addition, 30.8% of questioning youths — who answered “maybe” to identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual — reported problems getting a full night’s rest, which is essential to a person’s physical development and overall health and well-being.

“Sleep is incredibly important for a teenager’s health,” Jason Nagata, the lead author of the study and a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, told NBC News. “There’s growth spurts and hormonal changes that help you develop normally.”

Most youths don’t get quality sleep to begin with, according to Nagata. Still, LGBTQ youths, in particular, may be experiencing bullying, discrimination, or conflicts at home or school that not only take a mental toll, but a physical one by making it harder to obtain restful sleep.

Nagata’s team used data from 2018 to 2020 from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, which included questions for both the subjects and their parents about their sleep habits.

While existing research shows that sexual minority adults are more likely to experience difficulties with sleep compared to their heterosexual counterparts, Nagata believes this is the first study to focus on sleep-related issues involving LGB youths.

The study also opens up other potential avenues for research looking into other factors contributing to sleep disorders among LGB youth, including substance abuse, overstimulation, and stress.

“LGB kids experience more substance use than their peers, for example, which can alter sleep cycles and impair sleep,” Nagata said. 

Nagata has also done separate research finding that sexual minority youths are more “online” than their heterosexual peers, spending up to four hours a day more, on average, on computer and mobile phone screens. 

To get better sleep, Nagata recommends teenagers establish consistent sleep schedules, make sure their sleeping environments are comfortable, and limit their exposure to electronic devices and social media before bed.

Co-author Kyle Ganson, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, said parents can also help their children by being actively involved in their lives and supportive of any feelings they may be exploring regarding their identities.

“Adolescent development is a challenging time for many given the social pressures and physical, psychological, and emotional changes that occur,” Ganson said in a statement. “Understanding this process and being present to support it is crucial for positive health outcomes.”

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