Despite the popular stereotypical image of the teenager spending a ridiculous amount of time in bed, a new study reports that teenagers are increasingly sleep deprived.

Student asleep at his desk.Share on Pinterest
Not getting enough sleep can have serious repercussions for students and their academic progress.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have found that the number of hours slept per night has decreased among teenagers in the US over the past 20 years.

Among their findings, published in Pediatrics, the researchers observed that female students, racial and ethnic minorities and students of lower socioeconomic status were least likely to report regularly getting 7 or more hours sleep each night.

Getting enough sleep is vital for the health. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), teenagers function best obtaining 8-10 hours of sleep every night.

Without adequate levels of sleep, adolescents can find their abilities to think and reason impaired and become more prone to mood swings and pimples. Lack of sleep is also associated with mental health issues, weight gain, academic problems and substance abuse.

The NSF state that many teenagers also suffer treatable sleep disorders that can reduce the amount of sleep they get, including narcolepsy, insomnia and sleep apnea.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from Monitoring the Future – a nationally representative annual survey of adolescents in the US running from 1991 to 2012. The survey captured information for a total of 272,077 adolescents.

Students who were in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades reported how often they got 7 or more hours of sleep. Those who reported sleeping this amount “every day” or “almost every day” were categorized as obtaining that amount of sleep regularly, in contrast to those who “sometimes,” “rarely” or “never” slept for that amount of time.

Adolescent sleep declined over the 20 years recorded by the survey. The largest decrease in the number of adolescents getting 7 or more hours of sleep every night was among 15-year-olds. In 1991, 72% of this age group regularly got 7 or more hours of sleep, and by 2012, this figure had fallen to 63%.

Female students, racial and ethnic minorities and students with a lower socioeconomic background were more likely to obtain less than 7 hours of sleep compared with male students, non-Hispanic white students and students from a higher socioeconomic background.

The researchers note that although adolescents from racial and ethnic minority groups and families with little formal education were less likely to report getting 7 or more hours of sleep, they were also more likely to report getting adequate levels of sleep. The authors say that this finding suggests a “mismatch” between actual sleep and perceptions of adequate sleep.

“This finding implies that minority and low socioeconomic status adolescents are less accurately judging the adequacy of the sleep they are getting,” says lead author Dr. Katherine W. Keyes.

For all adolescents, the biggest declines in sleep were reported between 1991-1995 and 1996-2000. However, the disparity in the amount of sleep obtained according to race has increased more recently.

Dr. Keyes states that although the underlying reasons for the decreases in hours of sleep are unknown, factors such as increased internet and social media use and the heightened competitiveness of the college admissions process are adding to the problem.

A lack of sleep can seriously compromise the important formative years of adolescents, affecting performances in school exams and on the court and field. As well as negatively affecting their present health, it could also affect the health of their future prospects.

“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,” she concludes.

Recently Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested teenagers’ sleep is adversely affected by electronic media devices.