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OBJECTIVES: Young people are sleeping less. Short sleep duration has a range of negative consequences including a hypothesized link with psychological distress, which has yet to be studied DESIGN: Prospective cohort study SETTING: Community-based sample from Australia PARTICIPANTS: Twenty thousand (20,822) young adults (aged 17-24) identified through the state vehicle licensing authority. A random sample (n = 5000) was approached for follow-up 12-18 months later, with 2837 providing full data. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Psychological distress, determined by a Kessler 10 score > 21, at baseline; and as both onset and persistence of distress at follow-up. RESULTS: Shorter sleep duration was linearly associated with prevalent psychological distress: relative risk (RR) 1.14 (95% CI 1.12 to 1.15). Only the very short (< 5 h) sleepers among those not distressed at baseline had an increased risk for onset of psychological distress (RR 3.25 [95% CI 1.84, 5.75]). Of 945 cohort participants reporting psychological distress at baseline, 419 (44%) were distressed at follow-up. Each hour less of sleep increased the risk of psychological distress persisting after adjustment for potential confounding variables: RR 1.05 (95% CI 1.01 to 1.10). Long sleep duration showed no association with distress at any time point. CONCLUSIONS: Self-reported shorter sleep duration is linearly associated with prevalent and persistent psychological distress in young adults. In contrast, only the very short sleepers had a raised risk of new onset of distress. Different approaches to sleep duration measurement yield different results and should guide any interventions to improve subjective sleep duration in young adults.


Journal article



Publication Date





1139 - 1145


Adolescent Adult Age Factors Australia Cohort Studies Dyssomnias/complications/*psychology Female Health Surveys Humans Male Prevalence Risk Factors Stress, Psychological/diagnosis/*epidemiology/psychology Young Adult