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High sleep duration reduces effects of adversity among immigrated Latinx adolescents, UH psychology researchers say

Jason Martinez

HOUSTON, TX - Among recently migrated families, the access to mental health services may be limited by financial, logistical, and/or practical factors. A new study by University of Houston or UH psychology researchers suggests that maximizing sleep can provide psychological benefits to adolescents in this at-risk group.

Amanda Venta, associate professor of psychology and director of the Youth and Family Studies Lab at UH, claimed that the current study takes an important first step in identifying that short sleep duration is prevalent among Central American immigrant youth and, critically, in suggesting that intervening has important public health potential as a means of buffering the effects of childhood adversity on mental health in a vulnerable group.

The study's results have been published by Venta in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma.

There are multiple studies that find Latinx youth in the U.S. indicate shorter sleep duration than non-Hispanic white children. However, little is known about the sleep health of those youth.

Venta wanted to advance the research by collecting data from 112 first-generation Latinx immigrants, who have stayed in the U.S. for approximately two years and 46 caregivers. The surveyed people averaged 19 years old and were from El Savador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Her research suggests that on average, participants reported sleeping 6.83 hours per night, matching the national estimates of short sleep duration. When they had been exposed to childhood neglect, they reported bigger symptoms of posttraumatic avoidance, but this effect vanished when they've maximized the sleep duration.

According to Venta, the findings indicated experiences of neglect in childhood were associated with youth-reported mental health symptoms, but this relation was significantly moderated by sleep duration such that high sleep duration can weaken the relation. Furthermore, caregiver reports supported the buffering effects of sleep.

Great direct and indirect effects of abuse on caregiver-reported somatic, or physical, complaints appeared. Therefore, when sleep duration was low or average, the relation between abuse and somatic complaints was positive, but directionality switched when sleep duration was higher.

Over the last numerous decades, Latinx's migration rate from Central America to the U.S. has escalated rapidly. More recently, there's a particularly noticeable increase despite the enhanced immigration enforcement activities in the U.S. An increase of 131 percent in immigration between 2015 and 2016 was estimated by United States Custom and Border Protection.

Professor of Psychology of UH, Director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston (SACH) and co-author of the study Candice Alfano stated that in addition to developing brief education and intervention programs targeting sleep in this population, more pragmatic efforts that protect sleep should be considered.

According to Alfano, providers of medical care for immigrant families should inquire about and emphasize the need for sufficient sleep. Teachers and school administrators who serve immigrant youth should structure school policies and homework burdens to accommodate adequate sleep, particularly given the likelihood for outside employment and caregiving responsibilities in this population.

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