A Sleep Deprived Generation

As the school year begins, our teens will face heightened expectations and involvement in extracurricular and academic activities. The Stanford Children’s Health Sleep Center and their Sleep Disorders Clinic conducted a study of teens sleeping patterns in 2015. It reported that sleep deprivation is all too common among teens, which impacts their daily performance.  Lack of sleep results in the likelihood that teens will suffer a myriad of negative consequences, including an inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy – driving incidents, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. The director of the study stated that nobody performs at the level that they could perform when they are sleep deprived, but the problem is particularly acute in adolescents who need more sleep than adults.

A national poll found that 87% of US high school students get far fewer than the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. In a 2014 report, the American Academy of Pediatrics called the problem of tired teens “a public health epidemic”.

Teens have a biologic tendency to go to sleep as many as two hours later than their younger counterparts, yet their school days start relatively earlier. Therefore, most teens start the day before they are physically or mentally ready. Not only do they lose precious hours of rest, but their REM sleep is disrupted, which is the deepest and most productive sleep time.

“Full-Time” Teens

Compounded with school work, extracurricular activities, part time jobs, and college applications for some, electronic media has taken a large portion of teens’ time and attention. Over 90% of US teens have smart phones, and a quarter of teens report being online constantly. However, lit screens send a message through the eye’s retina to the part of the brain which controls our internal clock, indicating that it’s not nighttime yet.  Watching screens at nighttime makes it more difficult to fall asleep.

Adolescents are striving for autonomy in making their own decisions, including when to go to sleep. But growing teens still benefit from being in a family in which parents set the structure for their lives, including setting the sleep time. Teens are still maturing and evolving at making their own decisions, yet parents and guardians can be important influences in their lives during this crucial developmental stage.   

As parents, we often reward our children for being diligent students, and staying up late is often an indicator that they take their academic responsibilities seriously.  But if parents help teens prioritize restful sleep patterns, they will ultimately perform better in school and in life.

For some good parenting suggestions on the topic, visit: https://web.stanford.edu/~dement/adolescent.html