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Allergy

28 July 2020

Night owl teenagers more likely to have asthma and allergies

Parents, this new study might just help you to convince your night owl teenager to go to bed earlier.

  • A new study has found a link between bedtimes and respiratory issues in Indian teenagers
  • Night owls have an increased risk of suffering from allergies and asthma
  • Early risers are generally more resilient

A first-of-its-kind study – published in ERJ Open Research – has found evidence that sleeping patterns may influence teenagers' susceptibility to allergies and asthma.

And night owls seem to be the most at risk.

Types of sleeping styles 

Chronotype is an individual's internal preferred sleep cycle, and there are three types:

  • Larks – the early risers that go to bed early at night
  • Owls – people who are up all night and wake up late in the day
  • Intermediate – the inbetweeners 

Besides determining the time on your alarm clock, your chronotype also has an impact on your health, especially your heart, mind and metabolic system. And, unfortunately, owls are the ones that have a higher risk of cardiac, metabolic and psychological disorders.

READ | Pollen fragments linger after rains, leaving allergy sufferers miserable

How can your chronotype affect your respiratory system?

To find this out, researchers analysed the data of 1 684 Indian teenagers between the ages of 13 and 14 years participating in a general study on asthma and allergies. 

Around 42% classified themselves as larks, 9% as night owls and the rest as inbetweeners. 

They assessed whether there was a correlation between respiratory symptoms and chronotypes. 

The larks appeared to have the lowest risk of allergy-type conditions like wheeze, rhinitis and rhinoconjunctivitis, while night owls had a much higher risk.

In fact, those who like to stay up late were three times more likely to be at risk of asthma than early risers. These kinds of symptoms also tend to be more severe at night. 

The inbetweeners were less at risk than night owls, but more than the larks.

WATCH |  Do humans cause their own allergies?

Other factors at play

Potential interpersonal, environmental or genetic factors were found not to play a role in the connection between sleep times and respiratory problems.

"It is already known that evening-types are easily more prone to circadian misalignments that could eventually lead to circadian clock dysfunction, which triggers several down-stream mechanisms, including altered immune systems in the lungs," wrote the scientists.

Another factor is increased screen time at night, which lowers melatonin – the sleep hormone – and in turn, can affect the immune system as well.

However, there are some limitations to the study. It would be useful to have more night owl participants from other countries to help substantiate the causal link, as well as create a better control environment where sleep activity and allergy sensitivity could be closely monitored.

"Our findings of the role of individual preference regarding sleep and activity on the risk of allergy and asthma describe the importance of assessing circadian typology as a plausible factor for the disease. It may help clinicians and researchers attend to this lesser-known pathway of asthma and allergic diseases."

READ | Yes, bad sleep does make people grumpy

Image credit: Pixabay

 

Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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