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Transgender teenagers and young adults are more likely to experience sleep disorders relative to cisgender teens, according to a Michigan Medicine-sponsored study. Study researchers analyzed claims data from over 1.2 million teenagers and young adults, of which 2,603 were gender nonconforming or transgender. 

Transgender youths experience sleep problems 

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, transgender teens and young adults are 5.4 more inclined to experience insomnia and three times more likely to have sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. 

First study author Ronald Gavidia, assistant professor of neurology at U-M Medical School and sleep medicine physician at the University of Michigan Health Department of Neurology’s Sleep Medicine Division, said sleep health had not been extensively examined in gender-nonconforming youth and transgender youth. However, the results show that there is a considerable number of transgender individuals with disorders that affect sleep quality. Gavidia added that clinicians should consider assessing and screening this demographic for sleep problems, given the higher prevalence of these conditions relative to cisgender youth.

Anxiety and depression feelings are very common in transgender adolescents and adults, according to studies, and they are believed to have an impact on health and sleep quality. According to researchers, suboptimal mental health contributes to the link between insomnia and gender nonconforming and transgender identities. 

Senior Galit Levi Dunietz said that gender-nonconforming and transgender identity might precede psychological health disorders and influence the diagnosis of insomnia. 

Gender-affirming therapy can help address sleep problems in transgender youths

Out of the youths considered in the study, almost 50% had pursued gender-affirming therapy. However, this group was more likely to have a sleep disorder by almost 50% compared to transgender individuals that hadn’t considered therapy. 

The authors confirm that gender-affirming therapy might be protective against worse sleep quality resulting from psychological stressors like discrimination and prejudice towards transgender individuals. 

Gavidia concludes that insomnia and mood disorders have a bidirectional link. As a result, gender transition using gender-affirming therapies might improve mental health and reduce insomnia cases by enhancing gender dysphoria, stress, and poor mood.