Teenagers should be getting around nine hours of sleep per night, according to the National Institutes of Health, but late bedtimes, early school start times, and high levels of stress all lead to sleep deprivation during one of the most critical stages of development.
Overall, a study based on U.S. national data found that over 90 percent of American high school students exhibited signs of chronic sleep deprivation. In fact, a national survey ordered by the National Sleep Foundation found that only nine percent of adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17, those in grades six through twelve, get the ideal amount of sleep every night.
Sleep deprivation can be especially dangerous for teenagers, affecting the development of the brain and body. The health risks, both physical and mental, associated with severe lack of sleep in teenagers impact a wide array of issues, including mental health, learning and behavior, substance abuse, obesity, and dependence on sleep and anxiety medications.
Issues with Mental Health
A study recently published by the Journal of Youth and Adolescence highlighted the increased risk of depression and suicide in teenagers who aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep.
Results from the study, in which almost 28,000 suburban high school students were surveyed, showed that there was a 38 percent increased risk of sad and hopeless feelings in teenagers for each hour of sleep lost, as well as a 58 percent increase in the risk of a suicide attempt.
In addition, a study of 262 seniors at one school showed that teenagers are three times more likely to suffer from depression if they get less than six hours of sleep a night.
Finally, research featured in a recent issue of the journal “Sleep” indicated that adolescents who had earlier bedtimes set by parents were less likely to develop depression and thoughts of suicide.
Learning and Behavior Issues
Teenagers who go to bed after 11:30 p.m. on weekdays are more likely to perform worse in school and be inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive, according to a new study.
In the study, researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, an ongoing study directed by Congress, to determine that one in four teenagers go to sleep after that time.
Sleep allows the brain to successfully perform processes that are vital to learning, memory, and the regulation of emotions. Additionally, the brain organizes information gathered during the day at night, making it easier to go back and get that information at a later time.
Using and Abusing Substances
A study of adolescents in Southern California, published online in the journal Sleep Health, found a six percent increased risk of alcohol or marijuana use in the previous month for every 10 minutes later that teenagers went to sleep.
The study also revealed that teenagers were 55 percent more likely to have consumed alcohol in the past month if they indicated significant trouble sleeping.
Increased Risk of Obesity
Teenagers who don’t obtain the sleep recommended by the National Institutes of Health are more likely to suffer from diabetes and obesity.
Researchers analyzed data of 10,000 teenagers already taking part in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and found that those who weren’t achieving the recommended levels of sleep at age 16 are 20 percent more likely to be obese by the time they are 21.
A second study, completed by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, revealed teenagers who are already obese and don’t get a sufficient amount of sleep are at an increased risk of developing diabetes.
Increased Dependence on Sleep and Anxiety Medications
Since people under 18 can’t be prescribed sleep aids, many teens are instead receiving prescriptions for Ambien and Lunesta. While the long-term effects of these drugs are currently unknown, new research has been published relating to teenagers abusing prescription pills.
A study published last year by the American Psychological Association surveyed 2,700 middle and high school students from around Detroit and found that teenagers who were prescribed anti-anxiety or sleep medications were 12 times more likely than those who had never received a prescription to abuse the drugs.