Teens need about 8-10 hours of sleep each night to function at their best.
Most teens do not get enough sleep. In fact, one study found that only 15 percent reported sleeping 8.5 hours on school nights.
Teens' lives are busier than ever.
Not getting enough sleep or having sleep difficulties can limit their ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems.
Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, discusses teen sleep deprivation and what you can do to help your teen get the most beneficial sleep they so badly need.
RadioMD Presents:Healthy Children | Original Air Date: February 18, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Katherine M. Keyes, PhD
MELANIE: Are your teens getting enough sleep? Did the teens in the 50’s get enough sleep? Do teens ever get enough sleep? You feel like they do because they’ll sometimes sleep until two in the afternoon. Is there a great sleep recession? My guest today is Dr. Katherine Keyes. She’s Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Columbia University.
Welcome to the show, Dr. Keyes.
So, tell us about the study—about the changes in sleep duration among U.S. adolescents.
DR. KEYES: Sure.
MELANIE: From 1991 to 2012, what’s changed?
DR. KEYES: So, what we were able to do was use a resource called the “Monitoring the Future” project which is an annual survey of 8th, 10th and 12th grade high school attending adolescents on a whole range of health behaviors and included in that is an assessment of how frequently each of the adolescents regularly obtains 7 or more hours of sleep. So, what we did was look at that every year—the portion of the adolescents who frequently get 7 or more hours of sleep--for the last twenty plus years and what we documented was that there has been significant declines in the portions of adolescents who are reporting this outcome across all age groups and across demographic groups over the last 20 years.
MELANIE: Wow. So, I’d like to take this study and show it to a ton of parents that I know that let their kids stay up so late. It’s crazy. But, with all of the stress, the electronics, the phones, the computers, the gaming systems, getting our kids to sleep would seem to be like a waste of their time.
Now, Dr. Keyes, my kids—and I have a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old—and they both go to bed early, although they won’t admit it to their friends, because I’ve insisted on it all of their lives. But, they get up early. But I’d rather them go to bed early and get up early.
So, what are our kids missing out on by staying up so late and all these electronics and everything?
DR. KEYES: Sure. Well, there are a couple of things. I mean, we know that even one night of impaired sleep can effect concentration and focus. So, a chronic pattern of achieving inadequate sleep or poor quality sleep can have significantly adverse consequences for things like driver safety. With the decline of adolescents receiving adequate sleep, are we concerned about potential increases in road accidents? In academic performance? In sports participation? And even with social interaction. So, I think that the trend toward decreased sleep for adolescents is something we do need to be concerned about in terms of public health.
For adolescents after age 15, what we found in the most recent years was that we didn’t even achieve 50% of adolescents reporting that they regularly get 7 or more hours of sleep. So, it’s actually a minority of adolescents who are getting 7 or more hours of sleep and for some age groups, it’s below even 35%.
One thing I would say, though, one of the reasons we wanted to conduct this study is there’s been so much written about and so much parental concern about the impact of smartphones and tablets and social media on kids’ sleep in recent years. While on an individual level, there’s certainly evidence to suggest that teens who excessively use devices and social media achieve less quality sleep than those who do not, what we documented in this study was that we don’t see that translating to the population level. Over the last 10 years, we haven’t really seen major decreases in the portion of adolescents receiving 7 or more hours of sleep. Where we saw most of the decrease was across the 1990’s which is a pre-iPhone, pre-Facebook era. So, we really had to look to factors that might have been changing across the 1990’s to explain the large population level, historical trend we’ve seen in decreasing sleep.
MELANIE: So, what’s a parent to do?
DR. KEYES: You know, there’s a number of …
MELANIE: You know, I mean, in my situation, I’ve had these kids going to bed early since they were little.
DR. KEYES: Right.
MELANIE: So, they’re used to it. They don’t fight it. But, for a parent that hasn’t and their kids are now 14, 15, 16. “Oh, mom. Please. I’ve got homework. There’s a chat going on.” What do you say to the parents? How can they change this?
DR. KEYES: Right. I mean, certainly it’s a conversation that you want to begin early and it’s a pattern that you want to begin early. We all had bedtime routines and sleep routines with our pre-school aged children and I think one of the evidence-based guidelines that’s been recommended is to keep a bedtime, nighttime routine, even for adolescents and, you know, frankly, even for yourself. No, but if you haven’t been doing that, like you said, I think that health literacy messages to adolescents about how to achieve your goals adequately by getting a good night’s sleep and how much sleep impacts adversely your ability to perform these multiple role functions. And trying to keep consistency between weeknight and weekend sleep is another strong evidence-based guideline so that you don’t have this what’s known as kind of “social jetlag” where you’ve been staying up late and sleeping until noon on the weekend and then you come in for school on Monday morning, essentially, with jet lag. That takes you a couple of days to kind get over that and then you’re in this vicious cycle. So, really try to keep the consistency on weeknights and weekends. Keep a nighttime, bedtime routine and health literacy messages to adolescents about the importance for functioning in all these different roles that adolescents want to perform in, of getting a good night’s sleep.
MELANIE: Oh, it’s just so important. It really is and, as you say, the difference between the weeknights and the weekends. The weekends, they could stay up until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and then feel fine without sleeping until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
DR. KEYES: Right.
MELANIE: But, really, that changes that biological clock just so completely and then Monday morning, boom! They’ve got early-bird physics and up they have to be.
DR. KEYES: Exactly.
MELANIE: So, it’s just such a difficult thing for the kids, Dr. Keyes. So, in trying to get our kids onto these rhythms, and explaining to them about driving and studying and thinking clearly, all of these things may make a difference, but then, there’s all those electronics calling their names.
DR. KEYES: Right.
MELANIE: And the group chats.
Dr. Keyes. Exactly.
MELANIE: And all these things. So, tell us, from the study, what do you think is the most important message from the study that you want parents to hear?
DR. KEYES: You know, I think the broader message of the study is one for both parents, educators and as a public health community, really recognizing that what we’re seeing is a long-term, historical decline in the proportion of adolescents who are achieving sleep. You know, there’s this perception that for every adolescent group that comes through that, “Well, you know, adolescents have never gotten enough sleep.” Or, “Adolescents have always changed their sleep patterns.” But, really what we’re seeing in this study where we’ve measured it every single year for the last 22 years is a long, historical decline and this is concerning. This is concerning on a lot of different levels because there are both short and long-term consequences to teens not achieving adequate sleep.
So, you know, I think the message is a little bit broader than kind of parent to parent. For a specific parent, make sure you’re advocating these health messages to your adolescent, but as a community, we really need to think about what this means in terms of these historical declines and these rates of adolescent sleep and then portend what the potential consequences are for adolescent and adult health if these trends continue.
MELANIE: Well, just wrap it up in the last minute for us, Dr. Keyes, a summary of how much sleep, for parents that are questioning and looking at the study, how much sleep you think teens really do need to perform adequately all those other tasks.
DR. KEYES: Well, the current recommendation from the National Sleep Foundation which uses evidence-based and expert consensus is that adolescents should be receiving 8-10 hours a night of sleep. So, that really is the guideline that we want to go off on in terms of educating adolescents and parents about how much sleep their adolescent should be getting.
MELANIE: So, 8 to 10 hours, you know, really for most parents is definitely a tough thing to sell, but parents, you can really work with your kids and start early, as Dr. Keyes said, in getting your kids to try and get on some kind of a sleep pattern because as she’s shown in this study, the declining sleep is going to lead to your children being overtired. They will be less healthy. They will not be as alert when they’re taking driver’s education, when they’re taking their SATs and they’re taking these tests and they’re doing, you know, high school things. They need to have a good night’s sleep. You’ve heard me talk about it on this show before. It’s certainly a passion of mine. I am definitely the sleep police in this household and so you should be, too. Parents, take away those electronics for a good hour before your kids go to sleep at night. Turn off the gaming systems and the television. Have your kids wind down and stop studying for a little while and maybe just read a book or talk with you. Oh, there’s a novel idea.
You’re listening to Health Children right here on RadioMD. Thanks for listening and stay well.