By John Salak –
This can’t be possible. Teenagers don’t get enough sleep? Many, if not most, parents of adolescents think their children do nothing but sleep. Apparently, that’s not the case and this lack of teen snooze time is threatening to create all sorts of emotional, academic and physical problems.
Teenagers are in a critical stage of development and as such need up to 10 hours of sleep a day. Various studies conducted in the last decade, nonetheless, suggest that almost 70 percent of American high school students get less than seven hours a night and almost 25 percent of adolescents suffer from insomnia.
There are various reasons that cut into sleep time, including early start times for school, social, extracurricular and academic obligations and the internal shift in an adolescent’s internal clock after puberty that makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep at an earlier hour. These are traditional problems. Unfortunately, sleep challenges may only be getting worse for teens. The growing use of electronic devices impairs their ability to sleeps, as does the rising amount of adolescent anxiety, depression, neurodevelopment problems and sleep disorders, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Without enough sleep, teenagers are likely to become moody and irritated, engage to high-risk behaviors, have their attention spans and memory functions eroded, and see their physical development, cognitive abilities and creativity threatened. All these issues, consequently, can hurt their academic performance. If these problems aren’t enough, tired teens are also more prone to get hurt in athletes, social activities and car accidents.
Yet despite the growing amount of research on the relation between sleep issues and mental health, all too often health practitioners often overlook the impact of sleep issues when working with young people, according to research out of the University of South Australia.
“Getting enough sleep is important for all of us,” announced Dr Alex Agostini, a sleep expert at the university. “But for teenagers, sleep is especially critical because they’re at an age where they’re going through a whole range of physical, social, and developmental changes, all of which depend on enough sleep.”
His research indicates that if teenagers sleep less than 8 hours a night, they run the risk of not dealing well with stressors, such as bullying and social pressures.
“If sleep drops to less than six hours a night, research shows that teens are twice as likely to engage in risky behaviors such as dangerous driving, marijuana, alcohol or tobacco use, risky sexual behavior, and other aggressive or harmful activities,” Agostini added.
Lots of factors play into teenage sleep issues, but Dr Stephanie Centofanti, another sleep expert from the Australian university, pointed to the growing use digital technology as one of the main culprits.
“Overuse of technology can also contribute to mental health issues likely to increase anxiety,” she said. “Not only can technology use make us feel anxious and awake, but the blue light emitted from technology inhibits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin to delay the natural onset of sleep. This is problematic because teens already have a biological tendency to want to stay up late and sleep in.”
There are ways to help fight these problems. Certainly limiting the use of laptops, TVs and cell phones can help, although it’s difficult. Britain’s National Health Service, however, outlines other widely supported options. These include creating healthy routines, limiting caffeine, encouraging regular exercise, avoid sleeping late on weekends and stopping any binge eating before bedtime.