Sleep: A Precious Commodity


Yesterday on The PediaBlog, we learned about new research showing that children transition to kindergarten better and perform in school with higher social, emotional, and academic functioning when they sleep 10 or more hours every night. As children get older, every parent will tell you, sleep becomes a precious commodity.

Sleep deprivation in teenagers may be one of the biggest factors leading to today’s crisis in mental health in this age group. Noting that more than a third of high-schoolers reporting persistently sad or hopeless feelings, and 1 in 5 saying they’ve seriously considered suicide, Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright believe “this generation of teens is the most sleep-deprived population in human history.”

You read that correctly. No group has ever slept as little as the modern adolescent.

Seventy percent of young kids and 65 percent of adults get healthy sleep, but by their senior year, only about 15 percent of high-schoolers do. The average high-schooler sleeps 6½ hours a night, when they optimally need nine; and 1 in 5 teens sleeps five or fewer hours a night. By all accounts, adolescents are living in a state of severe and chronic sleep debt.

The negative effects of inadequate sleep on a person’s mental health are well known:

Studies connecting sleep loss and poor mental health fill stacks of scientific journals. Adolescents who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of depression. One analysis found that underslept teens getting six to seven hours a night were 17 percent more likely to think about hurting themselves than those sleeping eight; and sleeping five hours a night made them 81 percent more likely to consider self-harm.

In fact, sleep loss is implicated in almost every psychiatric diagnosis. Brain imaging studies have shown that sleep deprivation amps up the reactive, negative emotional centers of the brain, while the prefrontal cortex — which soothes and gives us perspective, judgment and emotional regulation — is less active.

In a new study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, researchers discovered that for many kids, nighttime sleep duration depends on several factors, including race and ethnicity, family income, age, gender, and body mass index. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 were surveyed:

The researchers found that for the sample, the daily total sleep time was 7.45 hours; significant predictors of total sleep time included race/ethnicity, income, sex, age, and BMI. Less sleep was reported among Black versus White children (~34 minutes), children from lower- versus high-income families (~16 minutes), boys versus girls (~7 minutes), and older versus younger children (~32 minutes); this was mostly due to later sleep times. Shorter sleep times were also seen for children with higher BMI. There were no contributions to sleep time for area deprivation index, experience of discrimination, or parents’ age at child’s birth.


None of these factors, alone or in combination, condemns children and teenagers to a lifetime of poor sleep hygiene. Calling sleep “eminently fixable,” Turgeon and Wright say solutions are found in every home if parents choose to use them:

Research ties family rules and healthy sleep routines to a host of positive outcomes. In a study of more than 15,000 middle- and high-schoolers, those with bedtimes of 10 p.m. or earlier were 24 percent less likely to suffer from depression and 20 percent less likely to have suicidal ideation than those with bedtimes of midnight or later.

Parents often underestimate their influence, but what they say and do matters. Start by modeling good habits. As a family, set clear devices-off hours and reasonable bedtimes — and encourage simple and powerful practices such as getting five to 10 minutes of morning sun (even on a cloudy day), which strengthens the body’s natural sleep rhythms.

For tweens and teens concerned about the host of issues affecting their feelings of well being — school, peers, social media, the pandemic, gun violence, climate change, their future health and happiness (the list goes on, doesn’t it?) — making sleep a priority should really help relieve the burden, and the suffering that too often results.


(Google Images)

Older Post Newer Post