Nearly 40 per cent of Auckland University students in a
survey had significant sleep problems, with depression and
anxiety the leading causes.
Other causes were suffering from a delayed cycle of sleeping
and waking, problematic alcohol use and "parasomnias" such as
sleep-walking, sleep-talking and tooth-grinding.
The researchers said it was the first New Zealand study to
explore rates of causes of sleep symptoms in young adults.
The survey, conducted among students at six schools at the
university, also found rates of depression and anxiety that
were slightly lower than those reported for the general
population aged 16 to 24 in a national survey in 2003.
The study, by Auckland University and Middlemore Hospital
researchers and published in today's NZ Medical Journal,
found medical students had lower rates of depression than
those in other fields.
Rates of potential problem drinking were higher among
students of engineering, law and architecture than among
medical, nursing and health science students.
One of the researchers, Auckland University psychiatrist and
sleep specialist Dr Tony Fernando, said the survey showed
that sleep disorders, depression, anxiety and alcohol
problems started when people were young.
"We need to know how common it is so we can address it at an
Ten per cent of all respondents had delayed sleep phase
disorder, in which, typically, people can't get to sleep
until after midnight and in some cases much later.
Dr Fernando said the disorder was a worse form of the normal,
mild tendency of teenagers and young adults to go to sleep --
and to prefer to wake up -- later than younger and older
High schools and universities ought to consider starting and
finishing academic classes later to accommodate this.
He said the majority of patients diagnosed with the disorder
experienced improvements following treatment.
"We can make it much easier for them. It's possible to adjust
their body clock by two to three hours earlier."
Others went to sleep as early as 5pm and woke soon after
midnight. This was quite rare and harder to treat.
The researchers say the rates of recent suicidal thoughts or
self-harm in the survey were similar to rates found in
studies of tertiary students overseas.
Potential causes for depression and anxiety among such people
include long work hours, sleep deprivation, increasing debt,
challenging career decisions and uncertainty about job
1292 Auckland University students completed the
39% - had significant sleeping problems for more than a month
17% - depression
20% - anxiety
16% - potential drinking problem
9% - used recreational drugs in the preceding three months
7% - recent thoughts of being "better off dead" or of hurting
62% - "satisfied" or "extremely satisfied" with life
Source: NZ Medical Journal