The dangerous impact of sleepy teens
A new study finds that kids who aren’t getting quality sleep are more prone to accidental injuries.
That’s a serious problem because most high school kids don’t get enough sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which recommends that teenagers get nine to 10 hours of sleep a night.
Lack of sleep for teens has real consequences, according to the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. The researchers found that sleep deprivation increases a teen’s willingness to engage in unsafe and risky behaviors. Dr. Anne Wheaton, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said in a press release that insufficient sleep among teens, “can put them at risk for unintentional injuries.”
Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents, and account for two-thirds of deaths related to traffic crashes.
The CDC study of over 50,000 high school students found that teens getting seven or fewer hours of sleep on school nights are associated with more high-risk and dangerous behaviors, like not wearing their seatbelts, riding with drinking drivers, drinking and driving themselves and texting or e-mailing while driving.
The study reported several reasons for teens’ lack of sleep. They included late night computer use, TV watching, playing video games and drinking too much caffeine. Light exposure from computers, tablets and smartphones can delay falling sleep by up to an hour. Teens also reported concerns associated with having to get up early to be at school on time, especially when they have to be there by 7:00 a.m.
The National Sleep Foundation, aiming to raise awareness about the importance of sleep for high school students, stresses the following:
- Sleep is important to overall well-being, including providing the ability to manage stress.
- During adolescence, biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking. This is not a disorder, just a natural delay in the circadian rhythm, and is the reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends delaying school start times for teenagers.
- Total sleep need varies between individuals, but most teens need between 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Yet, one study found only 15 percent reported sleeping 8 ½ hours on school nights.
“Optimizing sleep for adolescents can be complex, but it is not complicated,” says Dr. Loghmanee. “A team of family members, physicians, nurses and adolescents themselves working together can be remarkably effective in identifying and removing barriers to healthy sleep, and can also screen for treatable sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome.”
Dr. Loghmanee says that while this team is responsible for helping adolescents maintain their sleep, health communities and institutions also have a role.
“Until we begin to set societal expectations about issues such as school start times, extracurricular activities and academic standards in light of their impact on sleep, adolescents will continue to suffer from the myriad physical, emotional and intellectual problems that can result from poor sleep,” he says.
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