Teens 101: What’s sleep got to do with it?

Most teens in the US are sleep deprived—but adequate sleep is critical for academic and cognitive performance, mood regulation and health, and safe behavior.

Sleep is now recognized as the third “pillar” of good health, along with nutrition and exercise. Adolescents aged 13+ should sleep 8½ to 9½ hours per day, but typically run more than an hour short. In a national study in 2007, fewer than 8 in 100 students reported optimal sleep hours on school nights. Fewer than half the parents who identify a sleep problem in their child or teen discuss it with their medical provider.
Lack of sleep can lead to chronic deprivation and attempts to catch up, leading to more disrupted sleep patterns. Missing even 20 minutes of sleep per night amounts to almost two hours per week, a sleep debt that is difficult to address, often with multiple negative outcomes. Increased computer use (including smart phones) and social activity are among the strongest predictors of bedtime. Physiological changes in puberty, including a delay in sleep onset, probably affect sleep duration and patterns too. Other risk factors (see below) exacerbate this effect:

Consequences of inadequate sleep for teens

  • Mood disturbance (low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts)
  • Fatigue and daytime drowsiness
  • Behavioral and interpersonal problems
  • Lower cognitive and academic performance
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors and risk of accidental injury
  • Drowsy driving; increased car accidents (the leading cause of death of US teens)
  • Health deterioration, including headaches, impaired immune function, appetite regulation and glucose metabolism

Risk factors

  • Allowing teens more control over when to go to bed
  • Inconsistent bedtime routines
  • Computer and smart phone use at bedtime
  • Early school start times
  • Teen employment
  • Social activities
  • Caffeine consumption
  • Minority ethnicity
  • Lower socioeconomic status and neighborhood distress
  • Health factors including overweight, ADHD and sleep disorders

Protective factors

  • Parental control of bed time
  • Stable bedtime routines
  • Increased sleep time
  • Parent and teen education on sleep needs and routines
  • No computer use within one hour of bedtime
  • No computer or smart phone use in bed
  • Limited teen employment
  • Limited social schedule
  • Limited caffeine consumption
  • Later school start times
  • Involving primary care providers in addressing sleep problems

Readings

Key issues, signs of sleep deprivation & how parents can help
National Sleep Foundation
Essential highlights from Sleep in America survey & what you can do

Brookline Parent Education Network web page on Healthy Habits

Sources

Sleep Among Early Adolescent Students
Teufel, J., Brown, S.L., Birch, D. (2007) American Journal of Health Studies
Prevalence of Insufficient, Borderline, and Optimal Hours of Sleep Among High School Students – United States, 2007
Eaton, D.K., McKnight-Eily, L.R., Lowry, R., et al. (2010) Journal of Adolescent Health
Correlates of adolescent sleep time and variability in sleep time: the role of individual and health related characteristics
Moore, M., Kirchner, H.L, Drotar, D., et al. (2011) Sleep Medicine
Sociodemographic and Behavioral Predictors of Bed Time and Wake Time among US Adolescents Aged 15 to 17 Years
Knutson, K.L. & Lauderdale, D.S. (2009) The Journal of Pediatrics