A new study links high school popularity with decreased sleep quality and reveals a disparity between boys and girls.

Summary: A study has found that popular teenagers get less sleep, and popular teen girls have more insomnia symptoms. Researchers from Sweden and Australia analyzed sleep patterns of over 1,300 teenagers, discovering that social status impacts sleep duration and quality. The study suggests that emotional and social demands associated with popularity could disrupt sleep, a phenomenon observed even before the widespread use of smartphones. Further research is needed to explore these findings and develop targeted sleep interventions for teens.

Key Takeaways: 

  • A study analyzed over 1,300 Swedish teenagers and found that those with higher social status reported up to 27 minutes less sleep per night.
  • Popular teenage girls experience significantly more insomnia symptoms compared to their male counterparts and less popular peers.
  • Researchers found that the impact of popularity on sleep quality persisted before and after the advent of smartphones, suggesting other underlying social and emotional factors are at play.

Popular teenagers get less sleep, with popular girls being more likely to report insomnia symptoms, a study finds.

Teenagers generally struggle to get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep per night due to later melatonin release and heightened alertness in the evening. Compounding this, the teenage years are marked by increasing academic pressures, extracurricular activities, growing independence, and the complexities of social relationships, which all vie for their time and can disrupt sleep.

Recognizing that social dynamics are often an overlooked factor in adolescent sleep studies, researchers from Sweden and Australia launched an investigation into how peer popularity influences the sleep patterns of teenagers aged 14 to 18.

“Here we show that popular teenagers reported shorter sleep duration. In particular, popular girls, but not boys, reported more insomnia symptoms,” says Serena Bauducco, PhD, a sleep researcher at Örebro University and first author of the study, in a release. “Most interestingly, popularity also seems to negatively impact sleep both before and after the advent of smartphones.”

The study is published in Frontiers in Sleep.

In a sample of more than 1,300 Swedish teenagers, almost half of them female, the researchers examined if popularity coincided with shorter sleep duration. They asked teenagers to nominate up to three friends, and those receiving the most nominations were defined as more popular.  These teenagers slept less than their peers, the most popular ones up to 27 minutes.

When the researchers looked at boys and girls separately, they also found a correlation between popularity and insomnia symptoms: More popular girls experienced more insomnia symptoms, such as difficulties to fall or stay asleep or waking up too early. Popular boys did not experience these symptoms to the same extent.   

These sex differences are not yet fully understood, but the fact that boys and girls engage in differing friendship behaviors might offer insights. “Girls express more care and concern with their friends and engage in helping behaviors more than boys. This might mean they carry these concerns when it’s time to fall asleep,” Bauducco says in a release.

“We also see that popularity has been associated with worse sleep both before and after the development of handheld communication technology,” says Bauducco in a release. This suggests that it may not be smartphones that cause popular teenagers to sleep less; instead, other mechanisms could be at play.

The researchers speculate that more friends may mean more time dedicated to them which could result in less time left for sleeping. More emotional investment, too, could lead to sleeping difficulties. Both explanations would apply to times before and after smartphones became common. This, however, needs to be investigated in detail, the researchers say.

Racking Up Sleep Debt

“Teenagers are arguably the most sleep-deprived population throughout the lifespan,” says Bauducco in a release. “Previous studies show that 30 minutes of extra sleep can lead to improved mental health and better school performance.”

With schools starting early, many teenagers try to catch up on sleep on weekends—a strategy that can backfire. “Suppose a teen sleeps in on Sunday until 1 pm. Falling asleep that night to be ready for school the next day will be a struggle because they won’t feel tired,” Bauducco says in a release. “Delaying wake-times too much can contribute to maintaining the problem of sleep debt racked up during the week.”

The researchers believe that discussing social norms about sleep and expectations of peers around bedtime are a missing component of existing sleep interventions for adolescents. Additionally, further research is needed to examine the mutual relationship between social connectedness and sleep and to shine light on the discovered sex differences.

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