Can Sleep Loss Increase Long-term Health Risks in Teens?

By Vatsala Ramprasad, M.D., medical director of the pediatric sleep program

iStock_000005204633_ExtraSmallIt’s important for your teen to get a good night’s sleep for a number of reasons. Sure it makes life easier when she/he has to get ready for school in the morning, but it can also improve his/her physical and mental health now and later on when he/she’s an adult.

A recent study discovered that sleep disturbances in adolescents have the potential to cause health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. After collecting data on 9th grade students over the course of a year, which included information about their sleep habits, nutrition and physical health, researchers discovered the teens slept for an average of 7.9 hours on weekdays and 9.4 on weekends. For comparison, the CDC recommends adolescents of this age receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night.

Although the study focused on teens in Canada, it’s not an isolated issue. Adolescents in the U.S. are almost universally sleep deprived. We have been finding the same issues in the U.S. as the Canadians have found.

So why aren’t kids sleeping well?

The most common sleep disturbances in the study included waking up during the night or early in the morning, not being able to fall asleep within 30 minutes, being too hot or too cold, having to use the bathroom and nightmares.

And these issues are impacting adolescents in a major way.

ckhs-stock-images-177The relationship between poor sleep and obesity/metabolic syndrome is still being worked out, but it is clear that poor sleep has an impact on daytime functioning, including school performance and impulse control, which leads to more substance abuse.

But the impact doesn’t end there. Those who had trouble sleeping were more likely to consume soda and caffeine, as well as sugary and/or fried foods. The kids were also less active and spent more time watching TV or on the computer. And as you know, these unhealthy habits only increase their chances of developing serious health issues later on in life.

So what can parents do to help a sleepless teen?

The best thing adults can do is to serve as good role models. It is hard to tell your teenager not to watch TV at bedtime when adults are doing it!

Aside from setting a good example, parents can help their adolescent by:

  • Maintaining a Routine Sleep Schedule: Talk with your teen about setting a reasonable bedtime and wake-up time. Remember, adolescents need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep every night.
  • Establishing Good Sleep Hygiene: Your teen should create a relaxing routine at least a half hour before bedtime to help her/him wind down at the end of the day. This can include reading, taking a warm bath, or writing about the day so his/her mind isn’t racing when she goes to sleep. Mobile devices and TVs should also be banned from the bedroom, or turned off at least 2 hours before bedtime ,since the bright screens make it more difficult for the body to understand that it’s time for sleep.
  • Limiting Caffeine Consumption: Encourage your child to stop drinking or eating products with caffeine after 2 p.m. If he’s feeling drained on energy, suggest alternative foods and drinks that can safely boost energy levels.
  • Encouraging Physical Activity: Exercise can help tire your teen out so he/she sleeps better at night. It’ll also improve /her his physical and mental health. Just make sure she/he doesn’t exercise within two hours of his bedtime, otherwise they might have trouble falling asleep.

1 Response

  1. Diane Good

    I’m 61 and have many of the problems you mentioned. My mom said my pattern of sleep changed after I got mono at 16, and I’ve rarely gotten a good full night of sleep since then. For much of my adult life I thought I just didn’t need more than four nights of sleep a night, What I later learned is that when you don’t sleep your body doesn’t repair itself, and now the damage is permanent: osteoporosis, degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint disease. SO DO SOMETHING BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

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