Chronic stress undermines the compensatory sleep efficiency increase in response to sleep restriction in adolescents

R.G. Astill, D. Verhoeven, R.L. Vijzelaar, E.J.W. Someren

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34 Citations (Scopus)


To investigate the effects of real-life stress on the sleep of adolescents, we performed a repeated-measures study on actigraphic sleep estimates and subjective measures during one regular school week, two stressful examination weeks and a week's holiday. Twenty-four adolescents aged 17.63 ± 0.10 years (mean ± standard error of the mean) wore actigraphs and completed diaries on subjective stress, fatigue, sleep quality, number of examinations and consumption of caffeine and alcohol for 4 weeks during their final year of secondary school. The resulting almost 500 assessments were analysed using mixed-effect models to estimate the effects of mere school attendance and additional examination stress on sleep estimates and subjective ratings. Total sleep time decreased from 7:38 h ± 12 min during holidays to 6:40 h ± 12 min during a regular school week. This 13% decrease elicited a partial compensation, as indicated by a 3% increase in sleep efficiency and a 6% decrease in the duration of nocturnal awakenings. During examination weeks total sleep time decreased to 6:23 h ± 8 min, but it was now accompanied by a decrease in sleep efficiency and subjective sleep quality and an increase in wake bout duration. In conclusion, school examination stress affects the sleep of adolescents. The compensatory mechanism of more consolidated sleep, as elicited by the sleep restriction associated with mere school attendance, collapsed during 2 weeks of sustained examination stress. © 2013 European Sleep Research Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-379
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of sleep research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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