Teen Sleep Deprivation on the Rise | by Kris Scott

Teen Sleep Deprivation

Posted on Mon, Apr 30, 2018

The American Academy of Pediatrics has called the problem of sleep-deprived teens a public health epidemic.

With puberty comes change and development that creates a need for more sleep, says Dr. Dawn Stanley-Cohen, a Denver-area sleep medicine board-certified physician at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree.

“The sleep requirements in the newest guidelines for kids 14 to 17 is 9.25 hours of sleep a night,” Stanley-Cohen says.

During adolescence, young people’s biological sleep patterns naturally shift forward, so they stay up longer and wake later. In recognition of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Medical Association recommend that middle and high schools delay their start time to 8:30 a.m. to allow these growing adolescents more precious slumber. Despite this, the majority of middle and high schools across the U.S. have not jumped on board.

The problem is further compounded by students’ after school responsibilities including extracurricular activities and homework, says Stanley-Cohen, and “it’s almost impossible” for kids to get more than nine hours of sleep. She says, “Only 9 percent of teens are getting that much sleep, and 20 percent are getting less than 5 hours.”

The problem is rampant, says Dr. Maureen Snelling of Littleton Pediatric Medical Center, who estimates that about half of the teens she sees “have really poor sleep hygiene,” largely due to start times. These patients often report what Snelling calls “mood problems — they’re depressed, they have anxiety, they get angry or frustrated easily. You have poor coping skills when you’re tired.”

Greater Understanding

The problem, both doctors agree, probably won’t be fixed until there is a paradigm shift in school start times. And Stanley Cohen says she’s encouraged by the public’s growing perception that lack of sleep is a serious health issue.

“When it comes to teenagers and lack of sleep, it affects everything, and we’re not doing kids any favors by not talking about it,” Stanley Cohen says. “We need to make sleep a priority — we’re doing better but we have a long way to go.”

Tips for Better Sleep Habits

Create structure early

Kids who, from an early age, go to sleep and wake near the same time each night are better sleepers, says Snelling. That includes non-school days. Stanley Cohen says, “Don’t allow your weekend routine to shift more than 1 to 2 hours.”

Minimize distractions

Snelling recommends creating a bedtime routine that takes less than 15 minutes. Don’t rely on sleep “crutches” such as sound machines, she adds, turn off lights and keep routines simple.

Turn off electronics

Turn TVs and devices off two hours before bedtime, says Stanley Cohen, and remove devices from bedrooms at night.

Educate and communicate

Both Snelling and Stanley Cohen stress that parents talk to kids about why they’re setting bedtime rules. “Open those lines of communication about why it’s important,” says Stanley Cohen. “How they have to be alert to do better in school, how it’s safer when they drive, etc.”

Set a good example

Finally, says Stanley Cohen, don’t expect kids to be good sleepers if you’re not modeling what that looks like. “If you have parents that are only sleeping a couple hours a night and going to bed with a computer in one hand and a phone in the other, or going to bed with the TV running, that’s not a good example.”

How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?

Age Hours

  • Teenagers | 14-17 | 8-10 hours
  • School age | 6-13 years | 9-11 hours
  • Preschoolers | 3-5 years | 10-13 hours
  • Toddlers | 1-2 years | 11-14 hours
  • Infants | 4-11 months | 12-15 hours
  • Newborns | 0-3 months | 14-17 hours each day

Source: The National Sleep Foundation


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