Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick • Somerset

Teens Sleep

Teens & Sleep: American Teens Are Sleep Deprived, Impacting Their Health And Academic Success

American teenagers are so sleep deprived that they are nodding off in class, chronically late for school and driving while drowsy. A study released by the National Sleep Foundation shows that teenagers are getting less than the amount of sleep they need, impacting their performance at school and affecting their overall health. According to the Foundation’s 2006 Sleep in America poll of 11 to 17-year-olds, 45 percent get less than eight hours of sleep on school nights. Only 20 percent get the full nine hours of sleep recommended by health professionals.

The survey highlights the negative consequences of teenagers’ sleep deprivation. Its findings include:
  • At least once a week, more than one-quarter (28 percent) of high school students fall asleep in school, 22 percent fall asleep doing homework and 14 percent arrive late or miss school because they oversleep.
  • Adolescents who get insufficient amounts of sleep are more likely than their peers to get lower grades, while 80 percent of adolescents who get an optimal amount of sleep say they’re achieving As and Bs in school.
  • More than half (51 percent) of adolescent drivers have driven drowsy during the past year. In fact, 15 percent of drivers in 10th and 12th grades drive drowsy at least once a week.
  • Among those adolescents who report being unhappy, tense and nervous, 73 percent feel they don’t get enough sleep at night and 59 percent are excessively sleepy during the day.
  • More than one quarter (28 percent) of adolescents say they’re too tired to exercise.

Adolescence is a critical period of development and sleep is just as critical to that development as proper nutrition and exercise. If teenagers continue a pattern of sleep deprivation throughout their lives, they will significantly impact their overall health and well-being and put themselves at risk for serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and depression.

In adolescence, the body’s natural circadian rhythms, or internal clock, naturally shift to delay sleepiness, causing teens to go to sleep later at night and wake up later the next morning. Lack of sleep due to this shift in sleep patterns can be exacerbated when teens drink coffee and caffeine-laden soft drinks or participate in stimulating activities, such as watching TV or surfing the Internet, too close to bedtime. Sleeping late on the weekends and taking daytime naps also can interfere with a restful night’s sleep. In some cases, the underlying cause of an adolescent’s excessive daytime sleepiness may be a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia or restless leg syndrome. 

It is important for teenagers and their parents to identify any problems early, so that they can be treated before their sleep deprivation seriously impacts their health.

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