THURSDAY, November 24, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Transgender youth are more likely than others to suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea, and researchers are now recommending screening these young people for sleep problems.

“Transgender and gender-nonconforming identities can precede mental health disorders, and both affect the diagnosis of insomnia,” said Galit Levi Dunietz, study co-author, an epidemiologist in the Division of Sleep Medicine in the University of Michigan Department of Neurology.

For the study, researchers analyzed claims data from more than 1.2 million people aged 12 to 25. Among them were just over 2,600 young people who identified as transgender or gender non-conforming.

The researchers found that transgender youth were 5.4 times more likely than cisgender youth to suffer from insomnia. They were also three times more likely to have sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. (Cisgend means they identify with the gender assigned at birth).

The results show a worrying number of people with disorders that affect sleep quality, said co-author Dr. Ronald Gavidia, University Sleep Medicine Specialist.

Other research suggests that transgender youth and adults also have a high prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms. These are known to affect sleep quality and health, and they may contribute to insomnia in this group, the study authors noted.

“Given this higher prevalence of sleep disorders in relation to cisgender adolescents, clinicians should consider screening and testing this population for such disorders,” Gavidia said.

Among the transgender youth in the study, more than half had undergone gender-affirming therapy. Those who did were only half as likely to have trouble sleeping as those who didn’t receive the treatment.

The authors said the results suggested that gender-affirming therapy could protect against deterioration in sleep health caused by psychological stressors from prejudice and discrimination.

“Since mood disorders and insomnia have a bi-directional relationship, gender switching through confirmatory therapies could improve mental health, which in turn may reduce the proportion of insomnia by improving gender dysphoria, low mood and minority stress,” Gavidia said.

The researchers suggested that future studies should examine sleep disorders before and after gender-affirming therapy.

The results were recently published online in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

More information

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on sleep disorders.

SOURCE: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, press release, November 21, 2022