WASHINGTON — Teens are chronically sleep deprived.
According to a new national study, most adolescents don’t get anywhere near the recommended amount of shuteye, and the problem seems to get worse as they get older..
Researchers at Columbia University went through data on teen sleep patterns collected between 2007 and 2013. They found that less than 10 percent were getting the nine to 10 hours of sleep each day suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“These findings are very important confirmation of what we have seen locally,” says psychologist Daniel Lewin, the associate director of sleep medicine for the Children’s National Health System.
He says a study of teens in Fairfax County produced similar results, and found that many older teens are actually getting less than six or seven hours of sleep on a nightly basis.
High school juniors and seniors get the least sleep — only 5 percent in the national study said they got the recommended amount. Girls seem to get slightly less than boys. Black females get less sleep than white, often not even hitting five hours on a school night.
Lewin says there are a number of factors at play beyond the fact that many teens are trying to cram a lot into their day, including school, sports and jobs.
“There are also factors including the attractiveness of social media and school start times,” says Lewin.
Those start times are important because teens are biologically programmed to go to bed later and wake up later. When school starts before, say, 8:30, their deep sleep is cut short.
All this sleep deprivation can impact on still-growing bodies and minds. It erodes regulation of mood, making these kids more susceptible to irritability and depression. And while many teens stay up late to study and get up early for class, the irony is their sleep patterns can play havoc with their education.
Lewin says, “there are certainly effects on learning, attention and abiity to be creative in an optimal way at school.”
So what can a concerned parent do? Start by setting an example.
“Put away social media devices, get televisions and phones and other devices out of the bedrooms,” says Lewin, who also suggests setting regular sleep times for teens and cutting out caffeine.
He says daytime napping, while good for babies and toddlers, is counter- productive for teens. It’s also a big mistake to think a teen can make up for lost sleep during the weekend.
An extra hour or two on Saturday or Sunday may be helpful, but more than that and an adolescent ends up with “jetlag” come Monday.
Lewin says “they have a very hard time readjusting — they reset their clocks on weekends and can’t readjust during the week.”
In an effort to address the sleep deprivation problem, the medical community is urging school districts to approve later start times for teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics Journal has recommended that classes should begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. – a notion that Lewin and others at Children’s National’s sleep center have been advocating for years.
The fight is still ongoing in many parts of the region. But the Fairfax County School Board recently announced later high school start times beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.