US researchers have conducted a national survey and found that the percentage of U.S. teens who get seven or more hours of sleep is steadily decreasing. The number of teens suffering from sleep deprivation has continuously decreased, up to the point where less than half of all teens sleep adequately.
Between 2011 and 2012, only 43 percent of 15-year-olds say they slept 7 or more hours, while in the early 1990s, 72 percent reported the same thing. The over 272,000 U.S. teenagers between 12 and 19 who participated in the survey were asked to fill out questionnaires about their sleep hygiene. Katherine W. Keyes, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said that this aggravating problem has not been correctly approached in the past.
“This finding implies that minority and low socioeconomic status adolescents are less accurately judging the adequacy of the sleep they are getting.”
The study didn’t analyze the causes of this change, but I think it’s safe to say that the Internet and television had a pretty important part to play. However, the most substantial decreases in the amount of sleep teens get took place during the 1990s – before the internet and smartphones took over the world.
“Although the underlying reasons for the decreases in hours of sleep are unknown, there has been speculation that increased Internet and social media use and pressures due to the heightened competitiveness of the college admissions process are adding to the problem. Declines in self-reported adolescent sleep across the last 20 years are concerning and suggest that there is potentially a significant public health concern that warrants health education and literacy approaches,” added Keyes.
The fact that the percentage of teens who get a good night sleep dropped from 72% to 43% is extremely worrying, considering that sleep deprivation can have a number of detrimental effects, being associated with diabetes, lower brain capacity and reduced growth. Being tired seems to be the norm among teens, and the medical effects of lack of sleep will have to be accounted for in the future.
Surprisingly, girls were actually less likely than boys to get enough sleep. Across different groups of teens, minority members were also more likely to lose sleep, as were those living in cities and with lower incomes.
“The results indicate that teens who are getting the least amount of sleep are the ones most at risk of adverse health outcomes,” Keyes said.
Also worrisome is the fact that teens don’t seem to understand how much sleep they need, and how this can affect them negatively.
“A lot of teenagers just don’t know what an adequate amount of sleep is. They get four hours and think they are just fine,” says Keyes. She adds that one message of the study is that kids need to learn the importance of getting a proper night’s rest.
I think it’s important to understand that there is no singular cause for this issue, and as so, if we want to solve it, it will take a joint effort.
“Educators, parents and public-health practitioners need to work together to ensure that sleep as a public-health issue gains attention and awareness,” she said.
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