New Australian research has revealed that a worrying number of young people are experiencing sleep problems, as well as some of the reasons for the disturbances.

Carried out by researchers from James Cook University and the University of Queensland, the study tracked more than 3,600 young people from the age of 14 until they were 21.

The results showed that just over a quarter of the 14-year-olds reported sleep problems, with more than 40 per cent of those still having sleep problems at 21.

However, what causes these problems is different at different ages according to Dr. Yaqoot Fatima from JCU's Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health.

"Maternal factors, such as drug abuse, smoking, depression and anxiety among mothers are the most significant predictors of adolescent sleep problems in their children, at 14-years-old," Dr. Fatima explained, "For all people studied, being female, having experienced early puberty, and being a smoker were the most significant predictors of sleep problems at 21 years."

Depression or anxiety during adolescence were also factors for sleep problems between the two ages.

"It's a vicious circle. Depression and anxiety are well-established risk factors for sleep problems and people with sleep problems are often anxious or depressed," said Dr. Fatma.

In line with other recent studies, the research also highlighted the negative effect of electronic media on sleep, with Dr. Fatima explaning that, "In children and adolescents, it's found to be strongly associated with later bedtime and shorter sleep duration, increasing the risk of developing sleep disturbances."

Although Dr. Fatima did describe the results as worrying, as they revealed a high incidence of persistent sleep problems which can go on to cause other health problems, the findings did also suggest a solution.

"Even allowing for Body Mass Index and other lifestyle factors, we found that an active lifestyle can decrease future incidence and progression of sleep problems in young subjects. So, early exercise intervention with adolescents might provide a good opportunity to prevent their sleep problems persisting into later life."

The findings can be found published online in the journal Sleep Health.