Youth Culture Window

Sleep Loss…and Costs


The Real Price of Sleep Deprivation in Kids’ Lives

Teens aren’t getting enough sleep, not by a long shot. The effects it’s having on our kids can be scary. The way teens deal with it can be even scarier.

Something has to be done because our kids are paying a steep price for losing sleep.

Short Nights Lead to Long Days

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that teenagers get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, studies show that less than 10% of teens get that amount (even on school nights). The actual amount of sleep the average teen gets is closer to 6.5 hours per night.

There are lots of reasons why teens get such little sleep. Among the most prevalent are increases in homework, certain health conditions (such as asthma, sleep apnea, etc.), drug and/or alcohol use, and of course, screens. The toll of sleep deprivation is even more varied. Teens who don’t get enough sleep:

That last risk is the most unsettling. For years, researchers have been trying to discover if there is any correlation between sleep deprivation and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Based on research released in October of 2018, it seems there is. Researchers now believe there is an association between sleep loss and risky behavior in teens, such as drug use, alcohol use, and dangerous driving. However, teen sleep deprivation had “the strongest associations” with mood and self-harm. According to their data, adolescents who slept less than six hours each night were three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and/or attempts.

That’s bad news. The good news is, some teens are willing to try and solve their own problems. The worse news is, their solutions are often self-prescribed sleeping aids….

The C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducts regular polls on adolescent health issues. In a study released in September of 2018, they found that 28% of kids between the ages of 13 and 18 had tried some form of medication to address sleep problems.

  • 16% of that group had tried an over-the-counter sleep remedy (such as NyQuil
  • 14% of them had used an over-the-counter antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
  • 5% had resorted to prescription sleep meds (not necessarily their own)

Are those solutions coming from a medical professional? Is that what their doctored ordered? Probably not. After all, only a quarter of the kids polled have ever talked to their physicians about their problems getting adequate sleep.

“Walking Zombies”

That’s what Dr. James B. Maas of Cornell University calls teenagers due to their rampant lack of sleep. He probably didn’t intend it, but zombies have a morbid commonality: they’re all dead. Based on the research above – especially the stats dealing with suicide and car accidents – it’s not an exaggeration to say quality sleep can have life and death consequences. Since sleep is so important, shouldn’t parents do everything they can to help their kids get a great night’s rest? Absolutely! It’s not hard to do. Here are several suggestions rolled into two overarching points.

  1. Control everything you can control. There are a few factors we can’t do much about, for instance, a health issue such as asthma or sleep apnea. But there are lots of ways we can influence our kids towards healthy sleeping habits. For starters, get screens out of their bedrooms. Whether it’s a smartphone or a laptop or anything in between, make sure it’s not a temptation for your children when they need to be resting. Also, make sure your kids have a regular bed time…and wake up time. According to research, it’s important that both are consistent (so be mindful of the weekends, too). You may need to help them manage their schedule, as well. For example, make sure homework is prioritized early enough in the afternoon that it’s not lingering over them at bedtime. On a related note, you may need to evaluate how many activities, clubs, or sports your kid is involved in. And finally, if you find that you just need to move up bedtimes a bit, do it! Anything that can help your child get a better night’s sleep is worth your effort.
  1. Lead by example. If you want your kids to get more and better sleep, model that pursuit in your own life. Yeah, yeah, I know that adults need less sleep than kids. But here’s the deal: you need more sleep, too. Well, at least a third of you do. So, take a look at your schedule. Is everything that’s filling your days – and nights– absolutely necessary? What about your bedtime? Does it keep creeping closer and closer to midnight? And where’s your phone during the night? If your kids’ smartphones are on the kitchen counter, yours probably should be, too. Kids usually respond more favorably to change when everyone submits to it, so put your own practices under some scrutiny so you can lead by example.

Make sure your kids aren’t zombies in the morning. Or ever. Exert every ounce of influence you can to help them get the rest they so desperately need. You can drastically change their days just by tweaking their nights.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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