Lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people have a far greater incidence of sleep disturbances than straight ones, likely due to the effects of discrimination, according to a recent study.
“Sexual Orientation Disparities in Early Adolescent Sleep: Findings from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study,” published in the journal LGBT Health,noted that 35.1 percent of LGB youth aged 10-14 said they had difficulty falling or staying asleep in the previous two weeks. The figure for straight people in that age group was 13.5 percent, and the figure for questioning youth was 30.8 percent.
Sleep problems for LGB youth are likely caused by discrimination and bullying at school as well as lack of family support, lead author Jason M. Nagata, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, told NBC News.
“This is such a volatile period, both physically and mentally,” he said. “Teens are particularly vulnerable to the opinions of their peers, so it’s a high-risk group for mental health problems and suicide.”
This appears to be the first study of sleep problems among LGB youth, Nagata said. The researchers analyzed information covering the period 2018-2020 from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, which bills itself as “the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.”
The time that young people spend on their computers and cell phones can cause overstimulation, and that contributes to sleep disturbances, Nagata said. He was involved in a separate study that found queer youth use electronic devices about four hours more a day, on average, than straight adolescents.
He recommended limiting screen time, creating a comfortable space for sleeping, and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. Support from parents is also key, a fellow researcher said.
“Adolescent development is a challenging time for many given the social pressures and physical, psychological and emotional changes that occur,” said a statement from coauthor Kyle T. Ganson, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “Understanding this process and being present to support it is crucial for positive health outcomes.”
Nagata called for additional research on sleep problems among sexual minority youth. “LGB kids experience more substance use than their peers, for example, which can alter sleep cycles and impair sleep,” he told NBC.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.