Consequences of sleep deprivation for teenagers
Many teenagers miss out on a full night’s sleep during the school week which impacts on school performance, attention, memory, and has been identified as a cause of weight gain in children.
The study led by Professor Olds (University of South Australia) of more than 4000 children 9-18 is the first large-scale study of sleeping habits of Australian children. The findings were that underweight teenagers had the most sleep, while overweight teenagers had the least sleep.
Overweight teenagers had an average of 20 minutes less sleep than underweight teenagers during the week and that could extend to an hour less on the weekend. Olds said, “It seems very likely that it’s the low sleep duration that’s contributing to obesity, probably through various hormonal mechanisms that we know are associated with sleep deprivation.” (1)
The National Sleep Foundation says that teenagers should be getting around 9-9.5 hours of sleep but many don’t, although there is a valid reasons why.
Teenagers undergo changes in their biology with mood changes, growth spurts and changes to their sleep patterns. They may sleep all day or find it hard to get up in the morning. When adolescence kicks in the natural circadian rhythm is altered with the consequence that it can be difficult to get to sleep. Researchers say this could be because melatonin (which helps sleep) is released later.
The other change is that they need to sleep more, up to ten hours. The amount of hours they sleep decreases from around the age of 5 when they get around 11 hours. However with the onset of puberty and adolescence sleeping time increases. Once adolescence is over the sleep pattern changes again to adult sleeping times waking earlier and sleeping less. Overall it is a difficult time for teenagers as they need to sleep more, but typically find it difficult to get to sleep at the usual time.
This means they are sleep deprived as they still have to get up at early hours to go to school or sport. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of side effects. As well as those discussed above, it is linked to anxiety disorders, smoking, symptoms of depression, and rebellious behaviour.
Twenty percent of road deaths are said to be caused by micro-sleeps which are caused by sleep deprivation. Around half of these types of deaths are of 16-25 year olds. Other studies have found that lack of sleep was linked to higher blood pressure.
During sleep we have Rapid Eye Movements (REM) indicating that we are dreaming and REM starts to occur 70-100 minutes after falling asleep. One study found that if high school students had the opportunity to sleep at school around half of them went into REM sleep within a few minutes. Those students that work are even more tired.
Computers and TV encourage teenagers to stay awake longer and mobiles can interrupt sleep throughout the night.
One solution is for our society to make changes and allow high school and university classes to start later. Teenagers can then get the sleep they need without having to wake earlier than they should. Everyone will be happier about their performance at school, sport, work and they will be as well.
Tips for better sleeping:
No caffeine – it interrupts the circadian rhythms
Get some sunlight
Have a routine around bedtime
Allow enough time to sleep
Ensure comfortable temperature
No electrical appliances especially those with electro-magnetic radiation