Adolescent sleep needs

A recent study examined the sleep behaviors and daytime functioning of 3,120 high school students. The data was collected by self-reports from the students. Although laboratory research has shown that the need for sleep is not reduced during adolescence, teenagers lose 40 to 50 minutes of sleep per day, about five hours a week. This loss of sleep is due to later bedtimes coupled with continued early rising for school. This study showed few differences between girls’ and boys’ sleep habits.

Girls tended to wake up a little earlier to get ready for school but stayed up later and slept later on weekends than boys did. Students who described themselves as struggling or failing in school (earning C’s, D’s and F’s) reported less sleep on school nights than students who earned A’s and B’s. Students with poorer grades also reported a more disrupted sleep schedule on weekends — large delays in sleep due to significantly later bedtimes and later rise times.

Students who got less sleep on school nights and had large weekend delays in sleep reported increased daytime sleepiness and depressive moods. Results indicated that most of the adolescents surveyed did not get enough sleep and that their sleep loss appeared to interfere with their daytime functioning.

It is probable that both biological and psychosocial factors favor later bedtimes during adolescence; however this conflicts with the early starting times of most high schools, leading to inadequate sleep. Researchers conclude that most teenagers need more than seven and one-half hours of sleep to cope with academic demands, social pressures, driving and job responsibilities. These researchers believe that insufficient, erratic sleep is a potentially serious factor in adolescent development and well-being, and that the magnitude of the problem has been unrecognized because it is so widespread that it seems normal.

“Sleep Schedules and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents,” Child Development, Volume 69, Number 4, August 1998, pp. 875-887.

Published in ERN November 1998 Volume 11 Number 8

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