Sleep problems reported by young people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have been confirmed by electronic monitoring, opening the way for more accurate diagnosis of the condition.
Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, enrolled a small group of teenagers with CFS and kitted each of them out with an actigraphy watch – a device that monitors motor activity and sleep patterns.
During a two week trial, the data showed that the volunteers took longer to fall asleep than unaffected adolescents. They also slept longer and rose later. The electronic findings correlated with the participants’ self-reports, which also indicated poor sleep quality.
The objective measures achieved through using the actigraphy sensors are important because CFS diagnosis based on GP assessment is often an unreliable affair.
That study, led by Natalia Palacios of the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, analysed 42,394 survey responses obtained from health professionals enrolled in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II.
The survey indicated that 102 women had experienced an illness that met current criteria for CFS, but only 15 of them had been diagnosed correctly. In contrast, four times as many had been told by doctors that they had CFS even though they were not experiencing typical symptoms.
In Australia, the condition affects one in 1000 children and adolescents, and its onset can produce long term problems.
“The onset of CFS in adolescence occurs at an important time of brain maturation, and academic, social and physical development,” says lead researcher Elisha Josev.
“Treating sleep disturbance and promoting good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine close to bedtime and maintaining a regular sleep schedule, may not only be important for adolescents’ development, but may also have the benefit of reducing exacerbation of their other CFS symptoms.”
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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