Teens in the U.S. aren’t getting enough sleep and it’s not getting better as time unfolds. After days of too little sleep we accrue a “debt” of sleep. An article out earlier this month details the long-term effects of chronically tired teens, “The Great Sleep Recession” the reality that as teens progress from middle school and into high school, the majority don’t get the sleep they need. National Sleep Foundation has found that over 85% of teens lack adequate sleep. Sleep matters: deprivation and tiredness affect schoolwork, attention, mood, interactions, unhealthy weight risk and lifelong health habits. Teens need between 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night (imagine — that means if in bed at 10:30 a teen shouldn’t hear an alarm prior to 6:30am!) but the data out this month shows a growing number of teens from all ethnicities and backgrounds are getting less than 7 hours of sleep, 2 hours less than what is recommended. This has big effects on the culture we’re rearing. Typically teens won’t naturally get tired and drift off to sleep prior 10 pm, so one way to combat this sleep deficit is to push school start times to a later hour.
Why Teens Need Sleep
Sleep deprivation changes the experience of life. There an increase in risk for anxiety and for depression in young adulthood in those who don’t get adequate sleep and it’s harder to focus, pay attention, perform at school and make decisions when we’re tired.
- Less sleep leads to more car accidents and poor judgment. Changing the time teens start school can improve safety:
- Delayed start time lowered one county’s teen crash rates during study, while statewide teen crash rates (that reflected schools that stayed on the same schedule) rose 7.8% over same time period.
- In a two county comparison in Virginia, the one with an earlier start time had a crash rate of 48.8/1,000 drivers vs the county with later start times 37.9/1,000 drivers.
- Sleep deprivation can lead to substance abuse later in life and is tied to more use of caffeine and other stimulants.
- Caffeine in the morning and afternoon, naps throughout the day and evening and/or sleeping in on the weekend help teens cope with fatigue but these band-aids and catch-ups will not restore brain alertness like sufficient sleep does.
“Sleep Recession”: Trends From 1991-2012
The recession is here, teens are more tired than they were in the 1990’s.
- Sleep recession trending
- Teens who get more than 7 hours of sleep in decline
- Largest decrease in sleep in 15 year-olds.
- In 1991 72% got >7 hours of sleep
- In 2012 only 63% got >7 hours of sleep
- Gender gap in adequate sleep widening as girls getting less sleep than boys
How Later School Start Times Can Help
- Average public high school starts at 7:59 AM in the US, setting children up for failure with late bedtimes and the need for early alarm times to get to school. Correcting sleep challenges and sleep debt is one way to prevent illness and injury. The Academy of Pediatrics got serious last summer and released a policy on school start times:
- AAP recommends middle & high school start times of 8:30 or later. This aligns with natural circadian rhythm
- More cost effective way to improve academic achievement. Changing school start times have been found to show increases in lifetime future earnings by $17,500.
Town Hall Seattle – Tonight
- Learn more about the topic and how you can get involved tonight in Seattle. I’m joining a 7:30 pm panel discussion with Dr. Maida Lynn Chen & Dr. Catherine Darley on children, teens and sleep and how school may get in the way. Join us?